This post is for Alex Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writers Support Group (click the link for details on what that means and how to join. You will also find a list of bloggers signed up to the challenge that are worth checking out. The first Wednesday of every month, we all post our thoughts, fears or words of encouragement for fellow writers.
This month’s question — Writers have secrets! What are one or two of yours, something readers would never know from your work?
I have written about this before so I apologize if you’ve already read it. The reason I revisit this planning method is because it is an oddity about my writing style, something most wouldn’t know or suspect.
I write from a spreadsheet. I collect ideas like most of you do while I’m walking the dog, eating, reading email–something pops into my brain that is perfect for one of the books I’m mapping. I add it to Keep simply as a long list of tidbits. This one below is for my next book and has about fifty ideas curated already:
When I’m ready to start the book, I add these bits to a spreadsheet, rough out plot ideas in the rows first and then fill in details of the Eden State (the world that will never be the same), the inciting incident, the SHBL (strongly-held beliefs), story goals, the dramatic points in the plot, the character growth, and what needs to be followed up later in the book. I then evaluate what I’ve written with columns that take note of the main and minor characters in the scene, when and where it takes place, the scene’s purpose, and a rough break-down of chapters. As inspiration strikes, I add details, emotions, ideas, and everything else that makes a story sing. Here’s what part of it looks like:
Interestingly, when I posted about this a decade ago, a reader sent me a spreadsheet showing how JK Rowlings writes in a similar fashion:
On a separate spreadsheet, I build a timeline with morning-noon-night activities, location, and all the story events as they lay out temporally. I want to be sure nothing is in the wrong place and all time is accounted for. I know this is too small to see, but here’s an example:
These steps forces me to think through the story, flesh it out, and prepare it for editing. Usually, I get 900-1000 rows, transfer it to Word (which ends up about 75 pages), and then go to work.
For me, this is perfect, but that’s the type of writer I am. I know this wouldn’t work for lots of people. But, to my surprise, the last time I posted about my spreadsheet approach to writing, a few people shared that they wrote in a similar fashion!
How about you? How do you lay out your story?
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Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice, a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Against All Odds, Summer 2020. You can find her tech ed books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning