Finessing the Story
February 23, 2011
Outlining – OneNote
March 21, 2011
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I. Outlining – Big Picture

I. Outlining

A. Of all the tasks associated with writing I am most impatient with outlining. It isn’t that I dislike it, but the process is time consuming and requires a great deal of thought. However, it is also the process that makes everything else flow. Some writers can’t write without a comprehensive outline, others find it restrictive and a waste of their creative spirit. I can’t imagine attempting a book length project without an outline. While some writers find their creativity stilted, I find the outline frees my creativity by alleviating the stress of wondering what is coming next.

B. Excel: I keep almost all of my writing notes in Excel and One Note. I’ll post about One Note next time (it’s amazing). Excel is my favorite writing tool though. I currently have an Excel Spreadsheet with 15 tabs (worksheets) that keep my second book completely organized. I won’t explain the details of Excel here – it would take more than one blog post – but you should check it out on the Microsoft website if you aren’t familiar with it. Especially if you are an organizer. Fair warning: it is addicting. Following are a few of the worksheets I have for my current book and a brief description of their purpose.

1. Writing Timeline: I keep monthly writing goals to ensure I get the book-a-year output I’m striving for. I also log my word counts each week to keep me on track. If I get behind for a week or two, then I write double time for a week or two to catch up. Everyone has advice about “butt glue,” but it’s probably the best advice a person can get. Sit in the chair and write. Every day. The writing goals make you accountable.

2. Characters: Many people write sketches, but logging them in a spreadsheet makes it easier to keep track of the details. If you plan on writing a series the spreasheet is especially helpful. Even if you’re writing a full length novel, keeping track of a character’s specifics is often difficult – especially when those details change several times in the course of writing and revising. I changed my main character’s age several times for various reasons. I started out with the age I imagined her, but that changed as I pieced to together key events in her life (her father dying, college, when she came to town, when she ran for Chief of Police, etc.). When I finally settled on her exact age I had to make sure all of the references to her age throughout the book were caught and corrected. And, that’s just one detail. Height, hair color, job experience, house location, etc. are all details that have to remain consistent. When I write a description that I know I will be probably be referring to again I just log it on the row of traits for that character. I usually just copy the paragraph and past into a cell so I can easily refer back to it.

3. Cities and Mileage: Because Artemis is such a remote area in Texas, characters in the book frequently refer to, or travel to, nearby cities. It was important that I established where those cities are located, their distance from Artemis, and the drive time. I figured all of that information using Google Maps and logged it in the spreadsheet for easy reference.

4. Timeline for Murder: In my first book I found myself rereading passages I had written many times using the search function in Word – wasting valuable time – looking for details of the murder. It isn’t as if the details are dumped in one paragraph and are an easy find. In a mystery, details are distributed sparingly throughout the book as they are discovered by the police/investigator. Keeping track of the details was difficult for me until I started logging them in a worksheet within Excel. I actually have several worksheets that deal with the murder, but this particular one lays out the specifics (when the murder happened, when the body was found, when the police arrived, when the coroner arrived, when the…). Each entry includes date, time, and key people involved. Later in the book when I’m writing a scene that refers to the details of the murder I can refer to my spreadsheet rather than searching through 200 pages of narrative!

Next time – One Note – a great way to research and plan.