When I first met Stacy McKitrick , we were both unpublished writers and members of the Ohio Valley chapter of RWA. Stacy has left me in the dust, with her second book scheduled for release on September 1st, and I couldn’t be more excited for her. This is Stacy’s debut post for RU.
Are you a writer who likes to be organized?
Do you have so many characters that you forget their names, what they did, who they’re related to?
Do you struggle with writing your synopsis?
If your answers to those questions are YES, then maybe I have the perfect solution for you: a spreadsheet.
I can hear you now. You’re not an accountant, what do you need with a spreadsheet? Well, you don’t have to be an accountant to use a spreadsheet effectively. You just have to love organization (and even if you don’t, you might find this useful).
Awhile back (I’m talking years, here) on Janet Reid’s blog, she featured a guest poster who kept track of his writing using a spreadsheet. I became intrigued and decided to create my own. Maybe what I have here won’t work for you (just like what that guy had didn’t really work for me), but maybe it’ll give you an idea, especially if you’ve been looking for a way to keep track of your stories. Or to even keep track of your writing.
All my writing-related spreadsheets are located in one Excel file because I found that to be the easiest for me (I hate opening numerous files, especially if I don’t have to). I have one tab for my characters and a tab for each book. I also have a tab to keep track of my writing achievements (because I’m anal that way).
Here is a partial example of my Character Tab:
|Name||Character in Book||Mentioned in book||Role in book||Species||Age (in book)||Eyes||Hair||Height||Other|
|John Pennington||Forever 32;Bite Me, I’m Yours;Ghostly Liaison;Blind Temptation||Bartender, Sarah’s love interest||Vampire|
|Sarah Daugherty||Bite Me;Blind Temp||Accountant, Johns’ love interest||Human|
|Perry Davenport||Bite Me;Blind Temp||John’s friend, Does odd jobs for Committee||Vampire|
|Barnet Groves||My Sunny Vampire;Bite Me;Blind Temp||Head of Committee||Vampire|
I list all my characters from all my books on this tab. I don’t care if they’re in the same series or not, because I’m liable to insert characters from one series into another on a whim and I need to remember where I did that. You can make the table into anything you want. I have a section about my vampires as to when they were turned and the age they were turned. Maybe you’re writing about wolf shifters. You could add a column for wolf color. If they died in a particular book, you might want to have a column for that, too (because wouldn’t it be embarrassing if you put a character into a future book and they had died? I would probably do something like that!). Put whatever you want and whatever will help you later on.
I suppose some people call this a character bible. Maybe it is. I just find it helps me tremendously (plus I LOVE spreadsheets!), especially when I’m writing my series.
Here is a partial example of a Book Tab (this is from my soon to be published novel, Ghostly Liaison, due out in 2015):
|1||B||4||Mon||5/18||7:30am||Bridget rides her bike to work||x|
|R||Rob talks to neighbor about house||x||x|
|B||Bridget meets Rob||x||x||x|
POV = point of view where I list which character has that job in the scene.
For Page number, I used to list the page for each scene, but when revising, that became tedious to update, so I just put the page the chapter begins with. Besides helping to hunt down a specific scene and where it’s located, it also tells me if I’ve made my chapter too long (I try to stick to ten or fewer pages/chapter).
I include Day, Date, and Time columns because it helps me determine if events are feasible in that amount of time. I don’t necessarily use these dates in the book. I might use the day (if it’s needed), but it sure helps me in writing the scene if I know what day of the week it is (or time of year). Also, when I’m writing a later scene, I can go back and see when a previous event happened so I can have the character say “two days ago” or “Monday” and be correct.
The Scene* column is the column I find helpful when it comes time to write that dreaded synopsis. Be as detailed as you need (or as much as it takes to jog your memory). I can see in this table what happens and in the order it happens and I don’t necessarily have to scroll through my whole book to find this information. I’ve summarized it all right here. Basically, it IS my synopsis. Also, if I can’t summarize the scene to show what is happening, then maybe I don’t really need that scene. It’s a great tool (for me, anyway).
*Oh, and if you think I’ve given away part of my book, well, Charlie IS the ghost in Ghostly Liaison, and it’s already stated in the blurb, so it’s not a huge surprise that she dies, you know?
After the Scene column, I create a column for each character and put a check under their name if they are included in that scene. If your character list gets rather long (or, in this case, wide), you might want to consider cutting back on some characters. I know I don’t like to keep track of so many (whether reading or writing).
It’s important you update the Book tab regularly. I usually update it after I’ve written the chapter. You might find it easier to do it at the beginning of your writing day—that way you’re getting back into your story before you start writing that day. Again, whatever works for YOU.
If you add a scene, you can easily update this chart by just inserting a new line where the scene goes. If you move a scene, that line can be moved (either by cutting and inserting the new line OR copying and inserting the new line and then going back and deleting the old line—which is what I do in case I screw up; I don’t want to lose my data!).
As I mentioned earlier, I also use this spreadsheet to keep track of my writing. This is where my accounting skills come in handy (although I no longer work in that field). If you don’t like formulas or couldn’t care less how much you write a day, you don’t need this information to keep track of your story. I just think it’s fun.
But if you’re working on NaNoWriMo or some other writing challenge, this is a nice way of seeing if you’re on schedule.
Below is a screen shot of my Writing Log. You can see I’ve been doing this for awhile since this picture shows I’m currently on line 1269 (I started this spreadsheet in January 2011).
The columns to the left of Notes are for my current WIP (the first draft). You can see I don’t work on it everyday when I’m editing/revising a project. I’m trying, though.
The Date, Beg, End, and Words Written columns contain formulas. Whenever I’m working on a project, I overwrite the End formula with the actual word count. I write a Blog, so I keep track of my writing here, too. I created weekly, monthly and yearly totals to see how I’m doing. As you can see, some months are better than others.
The columns to the right of Notes are for any project I’m editing or revising. I needed help remembering where I left off on the previous day, and found this information helped tremendously. And if I happen to be cutting words (like I did in April), I include that too.
If you aren’t experienced with spreadsheets, this might be too much for you. I have to update this each week by copying, pasting, and inserting, and every time I go into a new month I have to change the total formulas. But if spreadsheets don’t scare you (or you love them, like I do), this could be more fun than work.
So… Do spreadsheets still sound scary to you? Does this seem like something you’d be interested in? Or does your writing software do all this for you? I use Word 2003 (and yes, Excel 2003), so I’m pretty basic (which is the way I prefer). If it ain’t broke, I’m not fixing it! But I do dread the day I’m forced to upgrade.
Join us next week for a full roster of talented guests!
Stacy McKitrick fell in love with paranormal romance, decided to write her own, and found her passion in life. She used to work in accounting, now she spends her time with vampires, ghosts, and aliens. Born in California, she currently resides in Ohio with her husband. They have two grown children. You can find her at website www.stacymckitrick.com  or her blog www.stacysrantings.blogspot.com .
Can a vampire find the perfect mate and not know it?
In My Sunny Vampire, Jack VanAllen helps Sunny Petersen become accustomed to being a vampire while searching for the vampire who turned her illegally. Is it just a coincidence she resembles his long-dead wife?
In Bite Me, I’m Yours, John Pennington dates the unique and highly irresistible Sarah Daugherty while keeping her away from any other vampire who might find her just as desirable. Could there be some truth to a story most vampires consider a myth?
These stories are about love. With a little bit of blood and mayhem thrown into the mix. They are vampires, after all.