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.