Anna Questerly

Anna Questerly
Bookseller and bibliophile turned author, Anna Questerly writes medieval fiction and fairy tales for smart kids and young hearts. For adults, she creates Utopian fantasy as A.J. Questerly.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Managing Your Muse Part 4: Spreadsheets

Long, long ago I had to take a training class on how to use spreadsheets. Understanding how they worked was one of my biggest challenges; using a word processor came much easier for me. I prefer words to numbers and always have.
Now, I use them frequently, but my spreadsheets for fiction are filled with words. No math allowed. (Okay, that’s a lie. I do use them to track royalties.)
While spreadsheets aren’t strictly necessary; for someone like me, who can’t read her own handwriting after a week or so, they can be quite helpful. I also find them easier to change and to quickly locate, besides they are much neater than my scribbled notebooks.
If your novel features more than two characters, you will find you’ll need something to keep continuity in your story. Seriously, if your character’s eyes change from blue to green, you need a better reason to offer your readers than “I forgot.”
It’s easy to create a simple character spreadsheet. I know authors with more of a tech background who make some amazing character sheets complete with photos. If you have the skills and the time, go for it; I prefer a more minimalist approach.
Across the top, I type my character names, keeping my primary characters in the first few positions, and secondary characters further to the right. Down the left side, I list attributes such as physical features, where they are from, what they like, what they don’t, etc. Then I fill in the boxes, creating characters out of bits and bytes.
This link will give you an example of how detailed you can make your own sheets.
But wait there’s more!
Ever wonder how authors are able to weave subplots into their story? I did too, until I learned a way that made sense to me and, Voila! Another use for spreadsheets in fiction is born: keeping track of plot points and subplots. Again, you don’t need a spreadsheet, you can use a hand drawn chart, which is what I did at first, but those easier-to-read and quicker-to-find issues pop up again.
If you don’t understand the terminology I use in the example below, I highly encourage you to watch Dan Wells five part series on Story Structure on YouTube.
Sorry, I can’t let you can’t peek at mine; it would spoil the story. However, the YouTube link I provided above, gives a great example from the movie, The Matrix.
In your spreadsheet, along the top, place the names of your main plot and subplots. For example; Action, Character, Romance, & Betrayal. Down the left side, list your plot points. Hook, plot turn 1, pinch, mid-point, pinch 2, plot turn, & resolution. As you begin to fill in the boxes, you will see where the subplots, can be threaded through your main plot in a way that makes sense. You’ll be able to watch your character arc build, and you’ll know you’ve given the reader the hints and foreshadowing needed for fair twists and surprises.
Basically, it’s a simple chart, but using it to keep my story architecture in place, allows me to keep track of each scene-block without them crumbling down around me into a jumbled mess.
When you are finished creating your charts, put them in a folder on your desktop  so you can get to them when you need them. You can also print them out and hang them near your desk.
Your critique partners, editors, and readers will thank you for keeping the continuity in your storyline and praise your ability to skillfully pull together your subplots into a cohesive tale.
Oh, and don’t forget to create a spreadsheet to keep track of your royalties. Uncle Sam will appreciate it.