I’ve always loved using excel spreadsheets, which probably goes back to my office job days (yawn!). But it was only as I recently plotted and planned the second book in my Silent Sea Chronicles, that I wondered if other writers had considered the benefits of using spreadsheets as a writing tool. Excel is great for;
- Planning your novel
- Plan scenes in brief (or detailed if you prefer)
I do a mixture of both on the spreadsheet. Sometimes I plot out the basic scene, but I might add a few bits of dialogue to help me get into the scene when it comes to actually writing it.
- It’s easy to copy, cut and move scenes around until you find the right place for them in the story.
- Keep track of viewpoint characters
This is great when you have a cast of characters. I don’t like to leave too long between being with each VP character, so this is an at a glance guide for me to check on this.
- Avoid writer’s block by knowing where you story is going.
I can always chose a different scene to write when I’m struggling with one.
- It’s easy to plot one character’s story arc and shift the scenes around in the book before you actually write them.
This was especially important for me when I wrote my previous novel, Visions of Zarua. It consisted of alternating chapters with Jago, a wizard whose story takes place 350 years before Paddren’s story began. Using this planning template made it easier to write Jago’s scenes and fit them around Paddren’s story.
- Track the timeline of the story and be very clear on how much time passes between scenes.
This stops you writing yourself into a muddle. It can also aid with the planning as you know certain events need to happen in a certain order.
- This spreadsheet is great for seeing at a glance how the scenes link with each other.
- Keep track of the seasons and more importantly the times of day of each scene
- Structuring your novel
- Using the spreadsheet you can estimate how many scenes are in a chapter, and how many chapters will be in the book.
This can help with the overall structure of the novel and it helps you visualise the book as a whole.
- By breaking the novel down into manageable scenes, the project is no longer so daunting.
- Editing your novel
- Print out the spreadsheet and make notes on it whilst editing.
I like to edit my drafts on a hard copy, rather than do everything on screen. When I print the draft of the novel, I also print a copy of the book plan too. This makes it very easy to,
- Make notes of time of day errors
- Note where scenes need shifting around
- Add in any new scenes.
- Occasionally you’ll find a scene isn’t needed at all as it doesn’t drive the story forward.
- Sometimes it’s just a case of noting that the scene needs polishing/developing.
- There may be places where more description is needed.
- Sometimes the scene would be better told from a different character’s perspective.
- Planning a trilogy or series
- Make a tab for each book on the same spreadsheet.
These spreadsheets are great for having notes on each book in one place and make it much easier to refer to (see my example above, the screenshot shows each book has its own tab – The Lost Sentinel, The Sentinel’s Reign, The Sentinel’s Alliance).
I can refer to these at any time whilst working on each book idea. These spreadsheets are invaluable in planning the rest of the books in the series.
- Keep story threads going through each book
Using these master documents for each book makes it easy to plan my story threads over several books.
- Using these spreadsheets it’s easier to add in a trail of clues for the reader to follow. An important fact in Book 1, might not show up again until Book 2 or 3. For the writer, it’s important to keep track of these clues.
- Other benefits for writers
- Another feature that might help visually is having each Viewpoint character in a different colour.
- As mentioned in point 1, it’s so easy to cut a scene from one place and paste it in another place.
- Use a spreadsheet to make notes on each character in you book/books.
- Use a spreadsheet to make notes on the places (islands/towns) in the book/books.
I love excel spreadsheets as a planning, editing and note taking tool. They’ve helped me get to grips with structuring my novels and helped me overcome the daunting task of writing a book series.
It’s also a great tool for keeping track of expenses and your tax return. But that’s something for another post!
Will you give spreadsheets a go to plan your next novel or series?
What tools have you found to help you plan your novels?
Find and Follow Suzanne
About the author
Suzanne lives in Middlesex, England with her hugely encouraging husband and two children.
She wrote her first novel at the age of twelve. She discovered the fantasy genre in her late teens and has never looked back. Giving up work to raise a family gave her the impetus to take her attempts at novel writing beyond the first draft, and she is lucky enough to have a husband who supports her dream – even if he does occasionally hint that she might think about getting a proper job one day.
Suzanne loves gardening and has a Hebe (shrub) fetish. She enjoys cooking with ingredients from the garden, and regularly feeds unsuspecting guests vegetable-based cakes.
She collects books, loves going for walks and picnics with the children and sharing with them her love of nature and photography.
Suzanne is interested in history and enjoys wandering around castles. But most of she likes to escape with a great film, or soak in a hot bubble bath with an ice cream and a book.
The magical island of Kalaya is dying, along with its Sentinel. With the Kalayan people turning their back on magic, can Tei help the exiles find their new Sentinel before it’s too late?
Kalaya is controlled by the Assembly – set up to govern but now under the control of Rathnor, who is intent on persecuting those who have magic, many of whom have taken refuge in the Turrak Mountains.
Tei has been raised to hide her magic, until her father, Migil, is visited by an old friend who warns them that they must seek refuge in the mountains.
On the journey, an enemy attack leaves her father mortally wounded. He sees her into the care of two exiles, Rike and Garrick, and on his deathbed makes a shocking confession that changes Tei’s life.
Tei must put her trust in these strangers, especially when mysterious Masked Riders seem determined to stop her reaching Turrak.
Struggling with self-doubt, Tei joins the exiles in their search for their lost Sentinel. But the Masked Riders want the Sentinel too, and time, as well as hope, is running out.
Can Tei help the exiles save the island magic and reunite the Kalayan people before their ignorance destroys them all?
Available to pre-order via Amazon The Lost Sentinel
Also by Suzanne Rogerson:
Two wizards, 350 years apart. Together they must save the realm of Paltria from Zarua’s dark past. An ancient darkness haunts the realm of Paltria. Apprentice wizard Paddren is plagued by visions of a city on the brink of annihilation. When his master Kalesh dies in mysterious circumstances, the Royal Order of Wizards refuses to investigate. Helped by his childhood friend, the skilled tracker Varnia, and her lover Leyoch, Paddren vows to find the killer. The investigation leads Paddren down a sinister path of assassins, secret sects and creatures conjured by blood magic. But he is guided by a connection with a wizard from centuries ago – a wizard whose history holds the key to the horror at the heart of the abandoned city of Zarua. Can Paddren decipher his visions in time to save the Paltrian people from the dark menace of Zarua’s past?