Friday, May 21, 2010

Organizationally challenged ...

"What do I need to know to apply for that inspector's job?"
My supervisor didn't even pause as we shoved more equipment down the assembly line. "How are you at Excel?"
"Um ..."
I hated to admit how little I used that spread-sheet program. At home on the farm, we still use ledgers, the check book register and notes on the calendar to track income and expenses. A few times a year I'd start to put the information on a spread sheet but usually went back to jotting notes on the calendar.
What does that have to do with my writing?
At home I vaguely remember another writer blogging about using Excel to plan out a story.
Mine story is done, but maybe I could use Excel to analyze it.
I could get two things done at once -- take another look at my story, and practice with spread sheets.
I plugged in page numbers compared to the names of the point-of-view character for each scene. Then I jotted down a summary. Then I got wild and color-coded it, giving each POV character his or her own color. Still color coding, I highlighted turning points and changed the font color on a couple of scenes that still need work.
And what did I find out?
A couple of possibly draggy sections really did ramble on. And on. And on a little farther. I decided I could break those up. A couple of story threads needed strengthening. And, I could probably cut off the last twenty or so pages. Or not.
At any rate, viewing the story from another angle showed some surprising things.
How do you-all organize your stories? Do you plot and plan ahead of time or just sit down and let 'er rip? I would love to hear more about other strategies!

8 comments:

  1. I never thought of using excel for my writing. I'll have to give it a go.

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  2. I ALWAYS use Excel, not only to plot out my stories, but also to get a visual on my story. It seems to make this large novel more digestible.

    Each scene has a row that indicates which POV the scene is in (color coded of course). I use a row to indicate the date, place, weather. I even use several color coded cells in each scene column to indicate which characters are in each particular scene. This helps me get a visual of how often the sidekick, or other characters are hanging around.

    I also, use a row to plot out the "Hero's Journey" by indicating which scene contains, the Refusals of the call, the ordeal, dark moment, etc.

    Lastly, I even have a row which indicates the current word count for each scene (which automatically adds up each chapter count, and even the current word count for the entire novel).

    I found that a seperate worksheet in the same file is helpful for what I call "facts" here I keep any important character facts that might mess me up later; physical traits, favorite words, backstory.

    I have tried colored Post-it notes on the wall, index cards, PageMaker, DramaPro, and of course whiteboards. I love using whiteboards, but I can't get all of my story outline on the four whiteboards I have propped up against my study wall.

    If you're a visual person, Excel is a helpful tool. Excel has been the best tool for me so far. I better stop, I'm sure this is more than anyone wants to know about my own writing habits. :)
    Kenny Noble

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  3. Anne I loved this post. a few years ago, I too started using excel to track my plots, especially for intertwining subplots. I wanted to make sure each chapter addressed relational, spiritual, story-line, and proper pov. After all that hard work I discovered I lost all interest in writing the story. I'd over analyzed it and and anything further seemed overkill. Now I'll write and use this sheet as a check to make sure I progressed in all the plotlines per chapter.

    Later I made a spreadsheet for characterization of history, physcial attributes,mental quirks, etc. This is more helpful. I don't want characters bleeding over from one unrelated novel to the next. And the fact of the matter is, you may think you won't forget, but you do.

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  4. BTW Ann, as soon as I started reading this, I knew it was you. Is that what you call "voice"?

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  5. Mary, I think that is what is called "voice" when you recognize how someone writes/expresses a thought. That is why so many protested Richard Bachman for "stealing" Stephen King's "voice."

    This is so good, Ann. So many writers are visual and I think it does work well for visuals.

    I'm so auditory and kinesthetic, it really overwhelms me. Funny, though, I was the master at lesson plan books, gradebooks, as a teacher, so maybe I should approach it that way?

    Anyway, great post!

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  6. Michelle WeidenbennerMay 21, 2010 at 2:48 PM

    Wow! I never thought of this. It's fascinating. I need to take an Excel class. Can a non-techie and older person learn how to do this?

    Kenny, thanks also for posting what works for you because it gives us great ideas. I hope I can use you as my go-to person when I have further questions.

    Thanks Ann!

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  7. Hey, y'all, thanks for the input!

    Kenny, it sounds like you are the designated Excel pro! I'm still working on spread-sheeting my story.

    But also (news flash!) I did put the farm books on it and started tracking input costs and income.

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  8. Great post and ideas, Ann. I love spreadsheets :-)

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