We are all planners; some of us call our plans ‘first drafts.’ Those are the most rigid and meticulous planners of all.”
~ The first part of that I read somewhere; the second part is my own addition made to clarify the truth of it…
As has been discussed before, after a couple of dismal failures on my attempts to just sit down and write a novel off the top of my head, I purchased some how-to-write-books books and learned how to create a proper outline. I then became an outliner at the far end of the scale, turning out outlines that were longer than some short stories. I was considered an outlier by serious planners. Once I found my true calling, the 20-odd thousand word novella, I shortened my outlines from a couple of paragraphs per scene to a couple of sentences, and that is what I’m going to talk about here.
I write in third-person viewpoint. Each scene is written from a particular character’s point of view. A novella hasn’t the room for the half-dozen or so characters I used in my novels, and they have been reduced to three.
- The protagonist. In The Darklighters, the main viewpoint comes from the Darklighter agents, primarily “Jinx” Jenkins. Charles Bender, her partner, has the viewpoint for about one-third of the scenes.
- The Antagonist; the villain if you like. The overarching “villain” is Kraken, an international criminal organization, but one of their operatives is the antagonist with personality, needs, goals, and most importantly, a viewpoint in the story.
- The Distraction. I’ve always believed that stories in which the hero can focus exclusively on the main problem until he has seen it through to completion leave a lot to be desired, so I always provide a rat to gnaw at the hero’s ankle while he’s trying to deal with the wolf at the door. This, too, is a person with a viewpoint, as opposed to a volcano or a weather front, and they’re sometimes on the same side as the hero, but working at cross-purposes.
This was my outlining method until a few days ago. It is, in fact, my outline for The Darklighters. Down the left side are twenty blocks, each marked with the numbers 1 through 3, corresponding with the characters named above. Beside each number is a couple of sentences describing the main points I want to make in the scene, and this has been it for quite a while now. Gone are the full-page descriptions of a single scene; I write from this single page, and it has been working well. But keeping track of peripheral things has been a handful.
Enter the Word Excel Worksheet. We all know these. Many of us create them at work, and many of those who don’t create them have their work guided by them. Like nearly all writers, I work in the copy of Word I bought for my computer, and Excel has been sitting there unused literally for years. No longer.
I didn’t invent the idea of using Excel as a writing tool, but once I saw it mentioned on a blog I was reading, the potential of it gradually developed and came together in my mind until I had a working template, which is what I’m going to share here. I apologize for the graphic. I spent a couple of days trying to collect a screenshot, but failed. Luckily, my digital Sanyo just does what I need when I need it, so this is a photograph of the screen.
Left to right, the columns are as follows:
The first is the most basic information, Act and Scene. I aim for twenty scenes, and highlight each one in green when the first draft is completed.
The second and third are the date and time that the scene takes place. These columns will ensure that the scenes take place in daytime or night as appropriate, and will prevent that odd occurrence where a character is in Los Angeles, and shows up in New York an hour later.
The fourth column is the viewpoint character color coded by identity; blue for protagonist “Jinx,” light blue for Bender, red for the antagonist, and yellow for the distraction. This is how you adjust the pacing, and verify it at a glance.
Column five is a couple of sentences that describe the scene you intend to write. Due to the nature of spreadsheets, you can make this as long as you like, and if you want a couple of paragraphs for planning, go ahead and put them here.
Six is the location where the scene takes place. Used in conjunction with the date and time, this (and column 7) will prevent any impossible juxtapositions.
Seven is the major characters present in the scene.
Eight is the target number of the total words for the story to this point. I aim for 1,000 per scene, total of 20,000.
Nine is the number of words in the individual scene, counted by Word with a mouse click.
Column ten totals the numbers in column 9 so far, giving me a running total of the story’s length so far.
This sheet allows me to keep track of every aspect that is important to me as the purveyor of my little action/adventure tales. If you write romance, you could add a column to track how the love triangle is developing. A detective writer could track clues, or how close the detective is to making sense of them. If you decide that a scene would work better in a different order, a mouse click moves it up or down. This thing is magic! My goal here is to convince you to give it a try if you aren’t already using it, and see if it doesn’t streamline your desktop. Stop back later and let us know how it works for you!
View from the Blimp
I must say, I’ve spent a number of days now considering the prospect of offering all of my work for free here, and I do like it very much. Stress of publishing, gone. Stress of marketing, gone. Stress of feeling like I must produce, produce, PRODUCE, gone. Just thinking about writing whatever I like, at my own pace, without worrying about its marketability is one of the most liberating things I’ve done in a long time. Independence Day might take on a whole new meaning for me in the future!
The real beauty is that given its zero cost, I can still publish on CreateSpace, buy a dozen copies, keep some for the grandkids and give the rest as gifts, and if another copy is never sold, so what? I will have had the enjoyment of the writing, and the people close to me will have books to keep and hold forever. I like the sound of that…
In Other News…
You’ve seen Richie Billing’s name appear frequently here, and there are a number of reasons for that. Today I present another: What’s the Plot?, part of his ongoing series about The Craft. In this installment he defines what a Plot is in relation to character and story, and goes in-depth to study its creation and management, including tools to track and develop it, and links to one of the masters of the Craft, Brandon Sanderson. Very much worth a read if you’re at all serious about writing with quality.
This is author Mark Carnelley’s review of The Morning Star by C.W. Hawes that Amazon mysteriously deleted:
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. June 4, 2018
In this first book of a gripping post-apocalyptic survival saga, author CW Hawes has given the role of leader to Bill Arthur, who while assuming command of his ever-growing band of survivors, struggles with the responsibility. This is now a world where it is truly survival of the fittest, and those wishing to usurp his leadership will be met with the full force of his group, intent on keeping the “good from the old world” and old fashioned morality. You would want to have a Bill Arthur in charge should you ever find yourself trying to survive in an apocalyptic event! This is a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ must read.”
All of us indies have a love-hate relationship with Amazon. On the one hand, most of us would never have been published without them. On the other, they arbitrarily decide based on who-knows-what that this or that review is invalid, and you never seem to lose a bad one. I have lost a few, and I’ve never known why. So even if you yourself aren’t a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction, you may know someone who is. Strike a blow for freedom against a monolithic dictator, and share this review with everyone you know. Independence (and independents!) will be deeply in your debt.
In keeping with the theme of Independence Day celebrated by Americans yesterday, I offer some Interesting Reads built around the theme of Freedom.
First up is Royal America by Englishman Steve Moore. A fantasy Western where the British never lost America. The British Army make contact with the Apache and Sioux in order to create Native American regiments. This is a British Western, where Sitting Bull, Geronimo, Chocise, Victorio, Lozen, Queen Victoria and other historical names feature in an alternative history where the Aztec Spanish and the Imperial Chinese try to topple the Royal American Empire. South West of what might have been… Price reduced to $1.99 on Kindle in honor of American Independence Day.
Next I give you Heroes of Aeolyne by B.P. Baggett. Grand heroes of Aeolyne, they had been long observed by a mysterious force and led to a land where they all will soon meet. Warriors and leaders that had suffered much and delivered freedom that is needed. Soon they will all join the path to help deliver the land from the dreaded Dragon Dorica’lax. Come meet these grand heroes and see their journey beginnings. Free on Kindle.
Write… Chase Dreams… Repeat, a Facebook club managed, if I’m reading this right, by author Jennifer Johnson. What appears there is mostly romance, which I never got into, and don’t promote much because I don’t know how to tell you that this one is of high quality, and that one is somehow lesser. Other things do appear, such as the fantasy above, but I don’t find much to promote from there. Nonetheless, they have never declined, deleted, nor even questioned any post I’ve put up there, and I just want to show them some love. If you’re interested in primarily romance by volume, but basically any genre, be sure to look in here. This is a busy site with a lot to offer, and they are very definitely on my “A” list. Just tell ’em the Blimpster sent ya!
And Just for Fun…
Many of us had our first inspiration to write science fiction provided by some version of Star Trek. This monster of a franchise began on television in 1966 and has run through a number of movies and television series to remain in production to this day, 52 years later, and it still continues to inspire. So, where’s the fun? Glad you asked. Two podcasters, Steve Shives and Jason Harding, are currently producing a series of podcasts called The Ensign’s Log. This follows the adventures of two rookies, Ensigns Barclay and Riker, aboard the Enterprise of Captain Kirk… Although they certainly can’t call it that! But if you’ve ever wondered what the junior staff was doing while the heroes were off acting heroic, this is your chance to find out. They have 12 episodes posted for your listening enjoyment, and they follow in order the episodes of the original series. So pop open a cola and dig in. This will get you thinking on many levels!
And that’s 30 for today. I’ll be back Sunday with more thrilling tales from the Lands that Never Were. Until then, read well, and write better!