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!


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

  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

  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.

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

  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!

  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!

  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.

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