Excel, flow and pacing, POV shifts, scene structure, the novel, Word, writing table, writing tools

Secrets Revealed…

Now, I’m sure some of you are hoping that I’m going to expose a few juicy details of my private life, sorry. But…this will be even better, because in all honesty, I live an ordinary life. I know, I’m bummed too.

However, I do have an in-depth plot table to show you about outlining your next novel. Isn’t that thrilling? Below, I have pasted an example to show you, and purposely made it blurry since it details the latest guts of my second novel.

I am excited about this plot table, because it is the second time I’ve used this format to outline, and it is near idiot-functional. That is, even if you’re an idiot when it comes to drafting a novel, you can use and will benefit from this table.

This is a simple Excel spreadsheet (you can also use a table in Word) of every scene or POV shift in my novel. I’ve been averaging 80-100 for 90K words, but if you write like Stieg Larsson, you might have 10,000.

Across the top (horizontally) I have these headings: POV , CHAPTER, SCENE, [scene] #, GOAL, CONFLICT, DISASTER, EMOTIONS/THOUGHTS, DAY, NOTES.

According to Dwight Swain, author of Techniques of the Selling Writer, every scene has a goal, conflict, disaster (SCENE), reaction, dilemma, and a decision (SEQUEL), small or large they might be. I’ve grouped the last three into Emotions and Thoughts in my table, which may or may not include a decision.

The importance of breaking down your scenes with these elements is crucial for the structure and pacing of your book. It helps organize your thoughts, craft a logical and complete storyline, and you may even gain insight about the themes, symbols, and moods in your novel.

In the first column of my plot table (vertically – see, I told you this was idiot-functional), I list the POV character’s name in that scene. Because I usually have three to four POV’s in the Kate Waters mysteries, I break up my scenes according to POV switch. Also, I have color coordinated each of my POV’s so immediately upon looking at my table, I can easily see how many POV’s my main character has in a row, and whether or not I need to add or space out POV scenes for flow and pacing. Currently, my main character is green, my detective is purple, and the other two are black and blue, which actually sums up their relationship.

In the SCENE column, I like to list the location of that scene, which helps remind me to vary the locations of my scenes for suspense and intrigue, as well as including unique or symbolic areas for action to take place at, such as on a docked boat or a shady pub, depending on what type of scene and/or information is being revealed at the time.

In the DAY column, you can keep track of the weekdays, time of day, sequential number, or even weather. The CHAPTER column is usually blank until I’ve finalized the structure of all my scenes, and am confident they won’t change in order (much) – that way, I can choose the best places to stop and start the next chapter.

The gray shading in the plot table is for night and day differentiation, with night scenes in gray. This is also a quick reference for how many scenes I have at night, which ones they are, and whether or not I need to adjust for time details in the novel.

When you are writing a novel, there are a gazillion details to keep track of, especially if you’re writing mystery. What details were put in one scene, or how far off an event occurred from another can be maddening and confusing if you don’t have the right tools to keep track of information flow. So, hopefully this plot table will be one of those tools that at least one of you will find helpful.

PS – This plot table is actually so cool and idiot-functional, I’m going to start drafting my first horror novel with it this summer.

11 thoughts on “Secrets Revealed…”

  1. Thank you Erin for sharing this. I am the most unstructured of people in my personal life yet over-organised in business – something like this could combine the two to sort me out!Very kind.


  2. Reminds me of some writing-specific spreadsheet software TS Bazelli wrote about a few months ago. It's interesting how many features you're planning ahead for. The date, characters present and what must happen to progress the story are vital to me and tend to form the backbone of my outlines.


  3. Very helpful. At first I thought it was Microsoft Project ;). I use MS Visio to keep track via a block diagrams, but your method looks very interesting. Thanks for sharing it and good luck!


  4. Erin I love this structured table. Sweet and to the point. I'm not going to even mention what I do because its absurd and ridiculous (but totally works for me!) But I will definitely give this a try maybe with Devil's Eye drafts just to see how it works with my mind. Never know. Thanks for sharing the ins and outs of how you do things. I love learning how others work their story lines. I'm going to star this post in my google reader. ;-) Can't wait for that horror novel of yours!


  5. Hi, Erin. It's been too long. Thanks for the "secret". Very intersting idea. I think I'll give it a try for my next one…Hope everything has been well with you.-Jimmy


  6. Excellent post, Erin. That's a handly little tool to have in your belt. I think that's the thing that's always kept me from writing longer works – the plotting and pacing.


  7. I like your table. I used a similar approach to 'analyze' my first draft for holes, redundancies, and the like. I used multiple POVs, so I had a column to track that too. But mine was in word, and I like te idea of excel because you can sort. Hmmmm, very cool. Peace…


  8. How cool! I've had to go back and count the days and such. Once I tried Excel but it wasn't this detailed so I'll give it another go.


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