Monday, October 01, 2007

Spreadsheets - A Writer's Best Friend

Whenever I mention that I find spreadsheets incredibly helpful in my writing people look at me oddly, as if I’ve passed the line from eccentric writer to bona fide crackpot. So, in the interest of proving my sanity, I thought I’d post a picture of one of my spreadsheets and show how I find it so helpful.

Here’s the spreadsheet for Act 1 of Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris.

This is a great way for me to see my novel as a whole. Note the lovely colored lines. They have a greater purpose than mere decoration. I color code each scene by plot thread. In TATSOO, I had five plot threads moving throughout the book, thus the five different colors. Color coding like this is a terrific way to “see” the balance of your plot and subplots, you can easily determine if you’ve dropped a subplot or gone on too long without mentioning it. (The astute among you will note that there are only four colors. That's because I hadn't found a way to work the fifth plot thread into the first act yet.)

Next look at the scribbling in the right handed column, where I make notes. I can look and see when the last time a certain character appeared, or make a note of the first time some element is introduced so I don’t have the characters talk about it before then.

It’s also a great way to look at the plot arc, to make sure that scenes happen in the order that brings the biggest impact.

And lastly, it allows me to work on the novel in smaller, more manageable chunks.

Next up, how I use the spreadsheet to graph my novel.


Laurel said...

I am absolutely loving your site. I just spent about three hours going through you character posts. Now I am really curious about your use of spreadsheets. Would you be willing to go into greater detail about how you set them up and use them? I'm working on my first novel and am trying out different organizational tools to see what works best for me.

Robin L said...

Hi Laurel!

I'm so glad you're enjoying the site! I'd be happy to go into spreadsheets in more detail. I'll plan on doing that next week once I wrap up the posts on revisions.

And you're very smart to be trying out lots of different organizational and process tools. I still do that, even though I've been writing for years. You just never know which tool will provide a breakthrough on any given project.

Laurel said...

Thank you so much. I have had a few little clicks here and there, but nothing that's slapped me in the face as "my way." It's funny because I have definitely experienced the "oh, I was already doing that trick but didn't know it" feeling when reading other people's techniques.
I look forward to reading more.