Posted On August 4, 2017 by Print This Post

The Top Three Ways to Save Your Series and Your Sanity via Excel Spreadsheets – by Nicole Locke

Happy Friday, RU Crew. Please welcome author Nicole Locke!

I’m writing a historical romance series. Doing so is like weaving a tapestry with no idea what the final picture is.

Why? Because it is a ten-book series with no end in sight. Most of my secondary characters will have their own story (and I won’t know who the secondary characters are until they show up). I weave true historical facts with my imaginary facts and characters. My characters meet when they are children and as adults, and often in different countries (with their own histories). Add all that to the fact it’s not in chronological order, and I’m weaving plot twists.

If this historical romance series is a tapestry, it’s a Jackson Pollock threaded tapestry. The fact that these characters fall in love and have happily-ever-afters means ― this series just got complicated.

It won’t get easier. The more facts I add, the more twists will happen. If you’re thinking of writing a historical series too, don’t worry. There are ways Excel spreadsheets have saved my series and sanity.

1.     Timeline Spreadsheet: You’ll Need One.

When writing historical, you must manage true historical facts with imaginative ones. Treat them the same. For example, when was King Edward born, and then when was your character born?

Here’s how I’ve done it:

a.     Across the top, insert your time-period years. I’ve found it helpful to put ten years before your characters’ birth and ten years after your story ends.

2.     Timeline Spreadsheet: Colour is your friend.

When weaving a story tapestry, colour font is needed or else all is black, and there’s no picture at all!

a.     Under the years for your Timeline insert your true historical facts. I’ve kept mine black.

b.     Next insert your characters’ lives. Use the date they meet and how old you’d like them to be. Then go backwards to fill in their DOB, past history, etc. I’ve found it helpful to also mark their 10th and 20th birthdays to keep track of how they are growing up within their history.

c.     Colour code so each hero and heroine’s story will have their own colour. When managing families who use the same imaginary facts, it helps to have multiple entries of the same colour under the same month/year.

3.     Timeline: Keep it brief.

a.     Keep your facts brief; otherwise, the Timeline will become unwieldy instead of a quick fact checker.

b.     Insert some facts on every character-even secondary. Knowing the secondary characters facts ahead of time means you’ll have a richer story to currently tell, but it will also save your sanity on future stories.

I’ve attached a snippet of my own Timeline for an idea on how you can create yours. Have fun with it, and make it your own. But know that once those dates are set in your Timeline, your imaginative facts are as real as actual history. If you make a mistake inserting them, it will affect future characters and stories. I’ve done it, and never want to repeat the process again!

Excel Timeline


There is a draw back to being this precise with your dates. Sometimes, it constricts the story you want to write. For example, in my upcoming November release, I wanted the hero and heroine to meet a year later. By consulting the Timeline I created, I realised I couldn’t, even if it would make a better story. Why? It would alter the timeline of a book that had already been released, and would alter the story of a book that is three books down the road. I had to treat the imaginary facts as true facts.

My only consolation on this frustration is it makes the series more real for you as a writer and, more importantly, for the reader as well.


The Knight’s Scarred Maiden

A maiden for the mercenary 

Mercenary knight Rhain is living on borrowed time. With a vengeful warlord pursuing him, he has accepted his fate—though first he must get his men to safety.

When he rescues mysterious and deeply scarred Helissent from her attackers, Rhain soon wishes he wasn’t marked for death. He can never be the man she deserves—his scandalous lineage alone dictates that—but Rhain can’t resist the temptation to show this innocent maiden how beautiful she truly is…

Lovers and Legends A clash of Celtic passions 

Barnes & Noble – AmazonHarlequin USBook Depository 


Bio: Nicole first discovered romance novels hidden in her grandmother’s closet. Convinced hidden books must be better, Nicole greedily read them. It was only natural she should start writing them (but now not so secretly). If she isn’t working on the next book in the Lovers and Legends historical series, she can be reached at:

Facebook    Twitter     Website   Goodreads


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8 Responses to “The Top Three Ways to Save Your Series and Your Sanity via Excel Spreadsheets – by Nicole Locke”

  1. Thanks for having me here today!

    Posted by Nicole Locke | August 4, 2017, 8:00 am
  2. This is really handy. Thanks so much for sharing your time spreadsheet. I’m working on a series. I find even for one book a timeline is a must LOL. I’m not good at keeping track of time periods.

    Posted by Mercy | August 4, 2017, 8:26 am
    • Hello Mercy! I’m thinking of using a timeline for each book now. Friendships are developing beyond storyline. I’m asking myself questions like: ‘When did they pull that prank?’ What kind of series are you working on?

      Posted by Nicole Locke | August 4, 2017, 9:22 pm
  3. I write in Scrivener, so keeping dates and times and details straight is pretty easy now. But even before I switched from Word, I used colors and timelines to organize my works. You’re so right; the longer the project, the more organization you need.

    Posted by Staci Troilo | August 4, 2017, 8:34 am
    • I adore Scrivener, and use it for almost every story I start. It has great features that I unfortunately don’t take advantage of, and wish I would. Mostly, it keeps me in check at the beginning when I have ‘exciting’ ideas for different scenes. How do you use it for your timelines?

      Posted by Nicole Locke | August 4, 2017, 9:17 pm
  4. This is where I get brain freeze. I need to try something like this. Or maybe Scrivener. Basically, whichever is easier to learn…

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | August 4, 2017, 11:57 am


  1. […] In my last article for Romance University, I chatted about Excel saving your sanity when writing a Historical Series.… […]

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