In this post I’m going to talk about a way to use a spreadsheet as a diagnostic tool for finding problems with your draft. I mentioned it online earlier this week, and there seemed to be a bit of interest there, so I thought I’d do a proper blog entry about it.
First, I went to emphasize that this is not my idea! I found it via a post on this blog; however, the post in which he talks about it seems to be gone (it was back in 2011). I am under the impression that JK Rowling does something similar, but I’ve never looked into her method and how it might differ from this one.
Materials: You will need a novel and some kind of spreadsheet software. I use Google Sheets these days. If you don’t feel like messing with spreadsheets, you can do it with note cards (and I have). In that case, you will need a mess of 3×5 or 4×6 cards (one per scene), several different colors of pen, tape, enough space to spread the cards out on a wall or a floor, and of course a novel.
I say “a” novel and not “your” novel because even though what I mostly talk about here is how to use this with your own writing, you can also use it with other people’s; see the note at the end of this post.
If it’s your own book you’re working on, I feel that this tool works best when you have a complete but unpolished story to work with; it’s okay if you have some holes, but if you’re still in a very early/exploratory stage, it might not help much.
I’m going to step through the spreadsheet layout I use first, and then dive into why.