We talked briefly about this in Article #21, “Plotting.” But now I’d like to go into a little more detail about it.
Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, you’re simply going to have to keep track of some details, especially if your book deals with the passage of time. And that’s just about every book ever written—whether it’s only one day throughout the whole book or a number of years, or even decades or centuries. You must keep track of what is going on when. In addition to tracking time, you can also plot out your story arc (to be the theme of a future article), false clues (red herrings), foreshadowing, and other details.
As I said in Article #21, some authors use white boards or bulletin boards, notebooks or pads of paper, sticky notes, index cards, or…walls. And then there are those who avail themselves of technology by using the built-in features of Scrivener or Excel workbooks.
A client of mine, Elke Feuer, happened to post a status update one day on Facebook and included an unaltered copy of the photo posted below. I want to share it with the Ape’s readers because it’s an excellent example of organization that takes advantage of several features in Excel. (The photo below has been altered to remove her book’s details and is being shared with her permission.)
Right at the top, in the center, you can see her file name: “Chapter and Scene Outline (title removed).” Including the working title—or real title—in all your file names will make them easier to find, especially if you write/have written/are writing more than one book. Adding a new folder in your My Documents and naming one for each manuscript will also help keep all the different versions and files together.
If you don’t do this… Well, say you write five books—with two potential cover designs, the final cover, the back cover blurb, the full wraparound cover, ten drafts, the version sent for editing, the version that came back from editing, the final version, the formatted version for Kindle, the formatted version for CreateSpace, the formatted version for Smashwords, etc…. Well, that’s five books multiplied by twenty-one potential files for each book, never mind research notes and other random documents! Do you really want to comb through all those files looking for the correct research document when your editor told you to double-check a quote?
So. Now that I’ve raised your blood pressure by several points, let’s go on with the workbook. 🙂
If you look down at the bottom of her screenshot, in the red circled area, you’ll see the workbook she has open contains several worksheets. The one showing (selected) is called “Chapter&Scene Outline,” but she has others, including “Victim List” and “Suspect List” (Elke writes mystery thrillers). The tab simply marked “List” probably compiles everyone who appears in the book, and I’ll bet their hair color, eye color, occupation, relationship status, employment status, etc., are all listed along with their names and nicknames. Her tab marked “Chapter and Scene” breaks down each chapter in more detail.
Across the top of the open worksheet, “Chapter&Scene Outline,” the column headers contain the basic information to be tracked. I especially like the “Scene Type” heading. Obviously, the information you put in your spreadsheet will be different from the data she’s included. Another style of book, or a much more complicated one, might have different row and line headings.
See how she’s mixed her suspenseful chapters in amongst chapters that simply contain the storyline moving forward? This kind of information will help you keep track of your story arc, as well as what kind of chapter you’re supposed to be adding.
So on this worksheet you’d have the basic outline for your book, whether it’s already been written (pantser) or if you’re just starting (plotter), plus all the details you need to ensure it’s consistent and in order. If you need any help with setting up an Excel workbook in this manner, just give me a holler!
What do you use for organizing your books?
We’re Dun with this series for now, but keep on Writin’ and don’t forget to bookmark the series index page below.
This series is not meant to be (nor will it be) simple static information.
I’ll be here for each post to answer questions, offer suggestions as necessary, and interact with you.
If there’s something you specifically want (or need!) to see addressed in terms of self-editing, please let me know in the comments under this, or any of the articles of the series.