• Organisation of After Action Reports (AARs)


    Organisation of After Action Reports (AARs)
    by Caillagh de Bodemloze and Darkan


    Organising your thoughts, by Caillagh
    If you're anything like me, your thoughts aren't really all that organised, so my title is a bit inaccurate. What I really want to talk about is ways of storing those disorganised thoughts in ways that make it easier to find them and understand them later on.

    When we begin a piece of writing, we start out with some information - an idea or two, or a setting, or a theme we want to deal with. (If you're writing a Tale of the Week entry, you obviously have a set of words you have to include, and a theme that may or may not be optional.) We also often have an idea of how long we want the piece of writing to be. Will it be a very short story, like that Tale of the Week entry? Or will it be a longer, more involved piece? Will it perhaps be a tale lasting two or three short chapters, or a long, winding story with fifty or more lengthy chapters?

    Unless we're writing a fairly short piece, most of us will probably find we need to keep some notes somewhere about what we plan to do. Darkan has very generously agreed to share his own system in some detail later on in this article, but I'd like to talk about one or two more general ideas and perhaps one or two different possibilities.

    Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to writing, of course. The best method for me is almost certainly not the best method for most other people. However, if you're writing something that you're going to take a while over, or something with complicated details you need to remember as you go along, it's probably a good idea to start out with a few notes. Things you might want to jot down even before you begin might include some of the following:


    1. details about characters, if you're writing a story with characters:
    2. name
    3. appearance
    4. background information
    5. friends and enemies - and reasons why those people are friends or enemies of this character
      details of each major faction (whatever's important - possibly geography, or alliances, or resources)
    6. details of different places and what they're like
    7. ...and, of course, all the things mentioned by Darkan in his part of this article - I won't bore you by repeating them.



    As you can see, it's easy to end up with lots and lots of individual pieces of information, and it can be hard to find the right piece of information quickly when you want it. So what should we do?

    Well, that depends on what kind of person you are, and what you're writing. If you're the sort of person who never loses track of where anything is, then you probably don't need to do anything at all. The rest of us, though, occasionally need a bit of help with this.

    There are lots of different ways of keeping track of your notes, so there's bound to be one that suits your ways of working. Here are just a few ideas:

    Mind-mapping
    This is very popular for all sorts of things - it's a way of visually representing the connections between your ideas. Some software allows you to include images as well as words. Unless you have a more complicated mind-mapping app, this will probably only work to show the connections between things, rather than setting out ideas in full.

    A Wiki
    We've all seen Wikipedia, so we all know that wikis work by embedding links to different pages (or, perhaps, documents or notes, in our case). You could set up your own online wiki, or there's at least one piece of software available that will let you do the same thing offline.

    Note-taking software
    There's plenty of note-taking software around. Much of it has OCR built in, so it can take scans of notes and turn them into documents (though you should probably check the results!) It can also usually save webpages, or copy parts of webpages so you can read them later, and, of course, you can organise your notes.

    Darkan's method (set out later in the article)
    Darkan's method is great - and you don't need any new software or equipment. You do need to be quite good at planning, and ruthlessly stick to your rules when it comes to things like naming files or choosing where to save things.

    Old school
    For those of us who aren't able to be always online, old school methods are just as good now as they ever were. A notebook is portable, needs no power source, and can contain any information you're able to write or draw - as long as you remember to carry a pen or pencil. When you need to organise your notes, file folders and ring-binders are invaluable, or you can just use large envelopes. Or, of course, if you like the 'TV-police-investigation' look, you could just cover a wall with sticky notes and connect them with string...


    Organising your materials, by Darkan

    When writing an AAR, or any other story longer than a Tale of the Week submission, one aspect we seldom think about beforehand is how to organise our materials. Sure, at first we only have a blank Word document which we struggle to fill, though you might be surprised to find how quickly (and overwhelmingly even) piles of materials and research add up.

    Word files

    While many authors just start writing, editing and proofreading is a necessity that cannot be stated enough. Though we sometimes might write under the muse’s influence, chapters or natural breaks in the story should be organised within their own word file. Something simple, like say, C1, C2, etc. will suffice. If you want to go the extra step, you can do this:

    Chapter 01 – The Chapter’s Title
    Chapter 02 – The Second Title

    Excuse the OCD in me, but the 01, 02; etc is necessary if you want them to look neat when you reach double digit chapters.

    Pictures

    Though not every author uses pictures, (editing them is discussed in Screenshots and Maps in AARs: A Beginner's Guide), a good system to organise our visuals is not only needed, but will save a lot of headache later. There are two systems I want to mention here, both of which I personally use.

    1. The first one is the simplest. For every chapter file you have written, make a folder with the same name where you’ll keep only the pictures that go in that particular chapter. Remember to rename you photos, but with this system you can keep it simple: 01, 02, etc, in the order they appear throughout the chapter.

    2. The second picture organising system is slightly more complex but efficient as well. If your AAR uses battle map pictures (which will probably do, especially for important battles), campaign map pictures and pictures from other sources (not in-game), you can create separate folders for each type/event. Something along these lines will do the job well:

    Pictures/Battles/Battle X, Battle Y
    Pictures/Characters/Domestic, Foreigners
    Pictures/Events/Kingdom, Characters, International
    Pictures/Campaign Map/FMs, Secondary (diplomats, spies, etc.)
    Pictures/City Buildings (for battle map city)/City X, City Y

    Also, remember that the number of actual pictures you WILL use is much lower than the ones you will take, but take a lot of them you must. Again, remember to rename you pictures so everything is easier down the line.

    Auxiliary files (usually .txt files)

    This is something you might not need for the story itself, but you will definitely want it for yourself, to make you writing life easier in the long run.

    Editing Information
    • Should you want to keep your photos in similar sizes/styles, note down the number of pixels for each type of picture you use (even if sometimes you choose to disregard this).
    • E.g. battle pictures – 600 x 377 pixels,

    Character Location
    • When dealing with multiple characters it’s always a good idea to know where they are. If you forget or aren’t sure, you might not have time to read whole posts/chapters to find out.
    • FL – in capital, FH – marching from A to B
    • Make sure you edit this each time a character’s location changes significantly
    • Additional information you can write here is the number of troops each general has, if any.

    Travel times
    • You might also want a travelling estimation between important locations. After all, it doesn’t do to have a character who is in the middle of a dark forest, lost, and poof, the following morning they reach a busy town.
    • Also, if a location is inland but your character is currently sailing, two days will probably not be enough to get there.
    • Land A to B – 4 days, B to C - 7 days
    • Sea A to B – 1 or 2 days, B to C - 3 days

    Again, you won’t mention how long it takes to get places in every sentence but when you do, or when you plan events (story wise), relative timing is a very useful tool. Along the same lines, a lone FM with only his retinue will always travel faster than one leading an army.

    Timeline
    • Similar to the Travel Times file, you might not always mention everything, but a good grasp of how much time has passed between important events will help your story and storytelling. You will need three columns only, though you may add additional information if you need/want.


    Last but not least, though it might seem too common sense to mention, here it is: remember to clearly name/mark your chapters, especially if you’ve posted them or haven’t finished them yet. Same can be applied to your picture folders, especially if you use the first system.
    Chapter 01 – Title [POSTED]
    Chapter 02 – Title [DONE]
    Chapter 03 – Title [WIP]

    Conclusion

    This article has simply provided suggestions for beginners about organising AARs. Different methods of doing this work for different people - and of course some people will find they don't need to use any of these suggestions! Feel free to comment below on how you organise your writing, or provide your own guide in the Writers' Lounge. Thanks to everyone who provided suggestions and advice for this article. Thank you for reading - see you in the Writers' Study!
    Comments 8 Comments
    1. Turkafinwë's Avatar
      Turkafinwë -
      A very helpful article, so my respects to both Caillagh and Darkan! From the less restrictive ways of structuring presented by Caillagh to the intensive and heavy structure brought by Darkan. I believe many will find this article very helpful in starting their own structure, including me. Even though I'm more inclined to use less restrictive ways of structuring, which suit my chaotic mind better (ikr a chaotic structure is a strange phenomenon that only one-self can understand or not even one-self ), I have taken some of Darkans suggestions and added them to further develop my own structure, so there is something for everyone here.

      All in all a great article!
    1. NorseThing's Avatar
      NorseThing -
      Yes, this is valuable stuff. If I were to learn just one thing every time I read Alwyn, Caillagh de Bodemloze, and Darkan's ideas I would not need any other help.
    1. Skotos of Sinope's Avatar
      Skotos of Sinope -
      Great article. Just started following Darkan's method for folders and files today and already I feel less overwhelmed.
    1. Swaeft's Avatar
      Swaeft -
      This was a lovely read. I did think about having a separate document for character information, the where they are, what they're doing, but deemed that too much work. Ha! Guess who's regretting that now. I actually use all of Darkan's methods, except for the auxiliary txt files.

      Just a little something to add, a character list can be a helpful txt file to have too! Not one about where they are or what they're doing, but that can be combined. Some background info and plot information for you to think about while writing the main chapter. That way you can brainstorm and develop the character even further whenever inspiration strikes you. Great article!
    1. C-Beams's Avatar
      C-Beams -
      I too got some good tips from Drakan, so thanks! Particularly with noting travel times which will help me avoid continuity errors.

      Also, I'd like to add to the 'police station look' of posting snippets all over the wall, as this is something I am fond of doing. I recently discovered these 'stick-on-wall white boards'. Kind of like sheets of white plastic that you unroll and can stick onto walls (including plaster) without causing damage on removal. Cheap, although a bit tricky to put up without help. But now I can quickly jot down ideas or remove them with ease. I like the 'police station look' as I can see my ideas at all times, which helps to keep my creativity flowing between writing sessions.

      ('Whiteboard Sticker' is what they were called.)
    1. Anna_Gein's Avatar
      Anna_Gein -
      Nice article. I planning to write my first AAR. These tips come in handy.
    1. Caillagh de Bodemloze's Avatar
      Caillagh de Bodemloze -
      Thank you, everyone, for your kind comments.

      I'll look forward to seeing your AAR, Anna_Gein.
    1. Leonardo's Avatar
      Leonardo -
      Great article and it have a lots of useful advices.

      However, I am not that kind of a writing guy and never has been one.

      Anyway, here is a tip for people who wants to use software when writing an article and that's to use Notepad ++ as it's free and doesn't take much space on a laptop.