Revising Struck by Chocolate Part 2: The Magical Spreadsheet

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In the last post, I broke down all the big reasons holding me back from getting this revision thing underway. While my initial instinct was to go cry in the corner (show of hands for everyone who’s had that urge this week) I instead just went and cried in the corner anyway opened up an Excel spreadsheet and got to work.

You wouldn’t know it by looking at the backseat of my car, but I am a very organized person. I love spreadsheets, lists, task reminders and detailed calendars. So this method of approaching my revision has been working well for me, but may not work for everyone. Like all writing and writing related advice, it’s just one person’s opinion. There’s only one hard and fast rule for this writing gig, and that is: WRITE.

The magical spreadsheet

Screenshot 2014-01-17 07.29.06

I know, I know: super tiny. But this gives you the general idea of what I’m doing.

On the far left, I placed scene settings. The format looks basically like this: Place, Time, Day. For example: Cafe/Midafternoon/Wednesday. This helps me keep track of the timeline, and of character locations. So if Farley, my MFC, is at her apartment, chances are good she won’t randomly run into Alex, my MMC, who is milling around the convention center. Seems basic, maybe, but it helps to have that stuff visually concretized.

The colorful column contains does two things: shows me what chapter and scene I’m working on, and whose viewpoint I’m in. So the text inside looks like this: Ch. 1, Sc. 3. And Farley’s viewpoint is purple, while Alex’s is blue. That way I can do a quick glance and see if one character has too many scenes altogether, or too many in a row. And having the chapter and scene in there helps immensely when toggling between Excel and Scrivener. (This method might not work so well with Word, as Scrivener breaks out each scene into it’s own document, essentially, and navigating between the scenes is very easy.)

Across the top I’ve listed all my plots and subplots. Being a romance, ‘Farley & Alex’ is the first and most important plot to keep track of. Least important, to me, is dealing with Alex’s employer’s past. While it does have some effect on the story, it’s pretty minor, so I put that one all the way at the end, and at least roughly organized the remaining subplots according to importance.

Then came the fun part. I opened up the Scrivener document and began skimming through each scene. When one of the subplots is mentioned or addressed, I made a note of it in the appropriate box. For example, in chapter one, scene two, we find Farley and her friend Steph at a bar, on Tuesday night. I have nothing written in the Alex & Farley box, because they haven’t met yet. One of my subplots is Farley versus her yucky coworker, and during that scene Farley and friend discuss said coworker’s suckitude, so I made a note of what, more specifically, was bitched about.

I found it helpful to make generally specific notes at this point. I say ‘Steph is being pushy’. I know what she’s being pushy about, internally, so I don’t need to write ‘Steph invites a guy to their table and flirts with him on Farley’s behalf and then slips him Farley’s card and also…blahblahblah’. It’s too much, and would clutter up my spreadsheet. I also don’t say ‘Steph meets Farley at the bar and talks’. While technically true, it doesn’t illuminate the tone of their conversation, and by extension the tone of the scene.

By the time you’re done tagging each scene with its components, you’ll have a good, eagle eye view of the story.

This is, by no means, the only way to structure this kind of spreadsheet. If you have lots of characters to keep track of, it could be more beneficial to use characters instead of subplots on one axis. The point is, you want to get your story organized in an easily viewable way, so you can address dropped plots, missing characters, missing scenes, etc. Especially with novel length work, this eagle eye perspective is invaluable.

Next time: Moar colors pleez!

Do you have a favorite revision technique? If so, I’d love to hear all about it!

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4 responses »

  1. Pingback: The Memory Maze | alisa alering

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