Showing posts with label excel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label excel. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 22

Getting Organized

Getting Organized

I was wondering what I could blog about today--for some reason when I only blog once a day it's twice as hard to come up with a topic! (Which goes to show that the more one writes the more one can write.)

So I would like to do something a little bit different and share one of the most useful tips I've been given as a writer: use Excel and Google Calendar to get organized.

If you're all ready organized, ignore this, and of course you don't have to use Excel, you can use any spreadsheet program, the same goes for Google Calendar. I like Google Calendar because it's easy to sync with my iPad calendar and it's simple to get alerts mailed to myself. Bottom line: use what works for you.

Using Excel And Google Calendar To Get Organized

I have Chuck Wendig to thank for this tip. He's the one who wrote about using Excel to get and stay organized in several of his blog posts.

I'm not talking about using Excel to help outline a novel (which it's great for; Chuck Wendig writes about that in this post and I talk about it more here and here), I'm talking about using Excel to help plan your days, weeks and months, to help set and keep your writing goals.

So, here's how I'm currently using Excel to stay (somewhat) organized:

1. Make a list of all the projects you want to complete in the next 12/24/36/48 etc months and give each one a tentative 'finish by' date. 

Some of these projects you're already working on, some of them, perhaps, are almost finished, some of them are just going to be ideas you want to work on, or maybe you just know you want to publish (say) two books every year for the next few years and that each book should be about 80,000 words in length.

For each project it helps if you have an approximate word count to shoot for. This can be adjusted later, but it helps to have something to work with, even if the figures are tentative.

2. Figure out how many books you'd have to sell at what price to meet your minimum financial goals.

I've written in detail how to do this elsewhere:

- How Many Books Would You Have To Write To Quit Your Job?
- Writing Goals Versus Writing Dreams: How To Get From One To The Other

What this hinges on is deciding how many books/novellas/short stories you want to write per year. That is, how many words you want to write per year. Let's say you want to write two 80,000 word novels per year, so you want to write 160,000 words per year.

Let's say that you think some of the words you write won't be used, so lets talk about this in terms of net and gross words. I use the rule of thumb that if I want to publish, say, 20,000 (net) words a month I should plan to write 40,000 (gross) words that month.

So, let's say you think that in order to publish 160,000 words per year (/two novels) you'll need to write 320,000 words that year.

((1) and (2) can be done in any order, but the two go together like a hand in a glove.)

3. Examine what you've written down for (1) and (2), above, and adjust your 'finish by' times accordingly.

The idea is to break things down so that you have a certain number of words to finish each year, each month, each week and each day. Your project start by, finish by, number of words, and so on, dates can be recorded in Excel but I find it handy to break writing objectives up.

So, for instance, if I want to write 320,000 gross words a year, that works out to about 6,200 words per week or about 900 words a day. Plug this into Google Calendar and send yourself a prompt every day, perhaps a couple of times a day, reminding you of your word count.

Don't be discouraged if you fall behind, just do the work you can and keep going.

Clear as mud? (grin)

A couple of weeks ago I started using this method and it's reduced my stress since now I can see at a glance what my goals are and where I am in meeting those goals.

How do you keep track of your writing goals? What programs have you used? What methods?

Photo credit: "This caught my eye" by Nina Matthews under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Monday, November 19

Outlining: Kim Harrison's Character Grid

Outlining: Kim Harrison's Character Grid

A few days ago I wrote a post about how to use MS Excel to outline a novel. That post grew out of my own need for a visual structure, a way to see my novel in front of me all-at-once. (See: Using Excel To Outline Your NaNoWriMo Novel: Defeating the sprawl)

Today I want to talk about another way of using Excel to outline your novel: The Character Grid.

This method comes from Kim Harrison, author of the Hollows Series. Let's dive right in.

"My rule is no more than one scene shift per chapter, and try not to stay in any one place for more than two consecutive chapters," (Kim Harrison, Character Grid)

In the following, knowledge of the world of the Hollows is plus, but you can get the gist without it. The following should give you something of a feel for Kim Harrison's process. She writes:
Yesterday I rewrote my plot to take out the demon plotline and expand two others of crime and love. It made a much more tidy story and I was able to dig deeper into the relationships instead of skimming over them.

My one page synopsis turned into a 13 page synopsis, casually broken into maybe-chapters. Today I’m going to begin to break this up into clear chapters so I can better balance the entire work as to pacing, place, and characters.

I don’t want to spend too much time in the church, or be moving from place to place in any given chapter. My rule is no more than one scene shift per chapter, and try not to stay in any one place for more than two consecutive chapters. Same thing with characters.

Variety keeps the reader interested and the story moving. So to better see the patterns that the story is taking and head off any potential problems, I have come up with a character grid. It’s about the only piece of “software” that I use, and it’s just an Excel spreadsheet that I’ve modified to my needs. Here’s the one I used for ODW [Outlaw Demon Wails] [see Figure 1, below]. (I inserted the paragraph breaks) (Kim Harrison, Character Grid)
Here is Kim Harrison's Character Grid:

Figure 1 (Click to enlarge)

(Here is a link to the original character grid.)

Kim continues:
Characters are down the side, the locations of the scene are on the top, and the action is at the bottom.  (this is an early version, so it might not dovetail perfectly into the published book) The color shift is an indication of a change in day (which can be seen by the dates) and the chapter numbers are under that.  The Xs are when a character is an a chapter, and sometimes I use an O to indicate that they are in the chapter by way of phone or scrying mirror.  I usually have the month and day the book takes place in across the top, and the sunrise and set and average temps at the bottom, but I recently had a software upgrade, and I lost my headers and footers in Excel.  (sucks big time)

My character grid is how I first realized that Jenks was in almost every chapter in the earlier books, and I’ve become better at getting him out so other characters can shine.  It’s also how I know if I have a character who is needed for a crucial scene, and yet is not introduced anywhere until that scene.  Very bad.  Same thing with the bad guys.  I try to have them show up early, and then at least one more time before the end.  Another rule of thumb is don’t introduce too many characters in the same scene, even if they are returning characters.  I like to have only two at the most, and will break a chapter just to avoid this.

A character grid of some sort is also a great way to make sure that your male to female ratio isn’t wildly out of balance.  Mine usually slant to the male end of the ratio, but since Rachel is female it works out.  Oh, and when you go to rewrite and need to add something that revolves around a character, it’s really easy to go the grid, see where they are, and place your clue instead of spending an hour thumbing through the file and guessing where to put it is. (Kim Harrison, Character Grid)
Kim Harrison's post is one of the best I've read on plotting and structuring your work-in-progress and it's part of a series.

Kim Harrison's Series On How She Plots A Novel

1. Where you at in NaNoWriMo?
"Today, in my official Not-NaNoWriMo, I have again procrastinated with other work, confining my rough draft of book ten to ideas in my head. Tomorrow, I will pick up my pencil and write something down. Promise. How about you? Where you at?"

2. Writing starts with “I want”
"I’ve been developing my writing style for over a decade, and this is what works for me. There’s no wrong way to do it as long as you’re making progress.)
I want. . .
That’s what it’s all about at this point for me. What do I want to see or accomplish in this 500 page monster. So today I’ll be sitting down with about ten sheets of paper and a pencil."

3. Procrastination: I’ds da queen
"My word count is still zero, but I’m almost ready to start writing. My post yesterday gave you some indication of how I went about organizing my thoughts for a new book. Well today, I’m going to tell you exactly what I did."

4. Day Two Of The Plotting
"Well . . . I took my six pages of notes from Thursday and wrote up a free-flowing, one-sentence brainstorming list of “ways to start” and a list of ”ways to end.” I still don’t have a good way to start the book, and I won’t until I have the end, but my goal is to have in the first five pages the hint of the problem that is settled in the last so to make a full circle."

5. Character Grid
"For those of you who haven’t been to the drama box in a few days, I’m taking the opportunity of NaNoWriMo and me just starting rough draft to detail out my plotting process. Disclaimer:everyone writes differently, there’s no wrong way to do it. This is what I’ve come up with over the last ten years or so, and what works for me. It’s a process that’s still evolving. Oh, and my word count is still zero."

6. And on the fifth day . . .
"So far, while using my character grid, I’ve found that I’ve got a slow spot, and I moved some things around to quicken it up. I also named a new character, learned a few things about him, and Rachel has told me she likes him better than the guy I thought she’d be interested in. He kind of likes her, too, or maybe he just likes the way she makes him feel. (Be smart, Rachel.) I’ve also learned what the story is about besides solving the crime and settling the love interest. (By the way, it’s not settled.) What I’m talking about here is the character growth, I suppose. And without character growth, not only would the story be stale, but I’d be bored to tears writing it."

7. And now . . . it begins
"... again. (grin) Last night, I finished breaking my 13 page synopsis into chapters, using it as a guide to write about a page of handwritten notes about each chapter, being careful to include who is in it, where to begin, and what poignant thought to end it with. It’s here that I usually find my hook into the next chapter that gets you to turn the page instead of turn off the light and go to bed."

8. Last day to send me your costume pictures
"Yesterday I finally finished my plotting and started actually writing the thing. Taking my one page of notes on chapter one, I spent the morning writing out the dialog, then in the afternoon, I turned it into prose. Today I’ll take my one page of notes on chapter two and do the same, and in about three to four months, I’ll have turned my 27 pages of notes into a 500 page manuscript."

How do you plot your novel? Does it look anything like Kim Harrison's method? Thanks for reading!

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NaNoWriMo Update: I'm at 35,528 words, so I caught up last night and did an extra 500 words. That makes me happy. Hopefully I'll be able to get up to 38k tonight. (fingers crossed)

Other articles you might like:
- Vanquishing Writer's Block
- How To Design A Great Looking Book Cover
- Using Technology To Sell Books: Quick Response Codes (QR codes)

Photo credit: "I Want To Believe … In Fairies" by JD Hancock under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Thursday, November 15

Using Excel To Outline Your NaNoWriMo Novel: Defeating the sprawl

Using Excel To Outline Your NaNoWriMo Novel: Defeating the sprawl

We're smack in the middle of NaNoWriMo and, I hope you're faring better, but my novel has grown a mite cluttered.

I did have an outline when I began (really, I did!) and I have followed it ... more or less ... but my characters had ideas of their own. I've ended up adding new scenes and modifying old ones.

The result looks a bit like a ball of wool after a cat played with it.

Normally I'd go back and tidy things up by re-writing what I have so far. But the beauty and the curse of NaNoWriMo is that there's no time! Because, let's face it, if I went back and tidied things up it would hault the flow of the story and might squelch my caffeine-fueled creative drive.

Outlining the NaNoWriMo Novel: Excel To The Rescue

The solution? Excel. At least I'm hoping. I came across this article today: How to Get a “God’s-Eye View” of Your Story in Microsoft Excel by Jeffrey Scott. (Jeffrey writes scripts, but I think his way of organizing a story works equally well for novels.)

It's marvelous! Using Jeffrey's system:
- you can see where you are in your outline (halfway through act one, at the midpoint, etc.)
- you can read a brief description of each scene
- you'll know WHERE each scene takes place as well as WHEN it takes place.
- you'll know which characters are in the scene (the main ones).

When I first saw Jeffrey's spreadsheet I was a bit intimidated, but just hold on, everything is simple and easily explained.

Here's a link to an example of one of Jeffrey's spreadsheets, this one is of the movie Independence Day: Outline of Independence Day done in Excel.

Let's step through Jeffrey's spreadsheet column by column:

Column 1

- Tells you were you are in the act structure. Jeffrey uses a 3 act breakdown, but it will accommodate whatever act structure you prefer.
- Black & gray color coding: Indicates different acts, or parts of acts (1a, 1b, 2a, etc.).
- Page length estimates for each act or part thereof

Column 2

- Page length estimates for each scene. Jeffrey sums these at the bottom to get a running count of how long the story will be.

Column 3

- Brief description of the scene. What does your point of view character want to accomplish in this scene?

Column 4

- Your slug line. A slug line consists of 3 parts:

a) Is the scene inside (INT.) or outside (EXT.)?
b) Where is the scene taking place? For instance, "Jeffrey's apartment".
c) At what time is the scene taking place? Day? Night? Dusk? Dawn? Late night? Early morning? Also "Later" can be used to indicate the passage of time.


Slug lines are a screenwriting tool, but I find them helpful when I'm writing a first draft. (For more information on slug lines: Screenplay slug line.)

Column 5

This can be whatever you want. A longer description of the scene, notes, whatever you like.

Color Coding

Color code each scene according to either who has the point of view in that scene or according to who is the most active in the scene.

Jeffrey does a great job describing his outlining method, I'd encourage everyone to read his well-written and exceptionally helpful article.

I'm hoping that, using Jeffrey's method, I can quickly do up an outline for what I've written and it will bring the clutter under control by helping me sort out the different plot lines.

Thanks to The Passive Voice Blog for mentioning the article Tools to Outline Your Novel over at Galleycat which mentioned Jeffrey Scott's article.

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What do you think, was this information useful? Do you use an outlining method that lets you see your novel at-a-glance?

Other articles you might like:

- Donald Maass Talks About How To Make Your Readers CARE About Your Characters On The First Page
- 8 Do's And Don'ts Of Writing Fiction From Neil Gaiman
- Using Technology To Sell Books: Quick Response Codes (QR codes)

Photo credit: "wallpaper - The ISLAND" by balt-arts under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.