A few months ago I published a post that contained the first version of a novel outlining tool for Excel. This is the second version of that tool, including several fixes, improvements, and additions. I strongly suggest that you read the first post before jumping into this one to get a full understanding. In this post I am only discussing the new additions.
The new version includes a few bug-fixes, updates in the general look-and-feel and various text edits here and there. I also tried my best to improve the documentation and add comments on the headers wherever I felt an explanation is needed. So, wherever you see a little red triangle in the top-right corner of a cell, you can hover your mouse and a text-hint will pop up, like in the image on the left.
Changes in the Scene List
Not too much changed here, except for one thing: I’ve added an Act column. If you subscribe to the 3-Act structure, or a different similar Act-Based structure, this is helpful and it plays out into the Cards, which I explain below. Below is the new header.
It’s not unusual that a novel-length story includes multiple plot lines. They might be parallel, intertwined, connected, complementary, you have it. Either way, there will be a few most likely. This tab allows you to track the plot lines. At this point, I’m not entirely sure how this will play out in the overall picture, but as I was plotting my own novel, I found like I needed to know this. The Plot Status at the end of the novel should be “Closed” in most cases, but if your novel is a part of a series, there might be plot lines that are left be open or uncertain. The difference between open and uncertain is: “open” is the hero swearing to kill xyz on the last page of the novel, and “uncertain” is the alien egg that appears in the last scene.
As soon as I started outlining my own novel with this tool, I immediately realized that the concept of Timeline was missing. As I was writing the manuscript I was making mistakes such as having people travel way too fast between places, not allowing enough time for things and so on. So, I realized that a way to track the time when things happen became critical. So, I came up with this worksheet called Timeline.
The header is loosely divided into PAST, PRESENT, and FUTURE. Feel free to copy/insert columns if you need more space. The Actual Date row header allows you to put actual dates and on the following rows it calculates the difference in days, months, and years relative to the START which is your novel’s “present date” setup in the Dashboard. The scene list is automatically copied from the previous tabs, so you don’t have to worry about that.
At the intersection of each scene row with the date column, you will make the cell black (background) and put an “x”. That’s important as you will see in a bit when we get to cards. As you start filling in the cells, you are actually defining the timeline of your novel.
Lots of people love the way that index cards look like when outlining. I thought this could be kinda cool to have here. So, I created a fully-automated Cards tab. It draws all it’s data from the Scenes list without any intervention. Here’s a snapshot:
And here is a more detailed anatomy of an index card:
If you used the Acts column in the Scene list, as I explained above, the sheet will automatically color-code your card headers with different colors for Act 1, 2, and 3.
When you are done with your scenes, don’t forget to use the filter on column V and un-check the “No.” This will hide any blank cards. This sheet prints on landscape by default and you will get 20 cards per page. If you move rows around in your Scene List, the cards will update automatically.
Even though there’s an intensity chart in the Charts tab, I felt like a very visual intensity model would help when put parallel to the scenes. So, in this tab you have the scene list on the left and the graphical representation of the intensity (represented by a number from 0-100) on the right. As you read through your outline, make sure the intensity you plan matches the scene you plan. You should see some mountains and valleys as your novel’s intensity goes up and down as the story progresses. This is derived directly from your Scene List tab.
Last but not least, the Chapters Tab. Just like everything with writing, there’s no set rule about chapter length or number of scenes per chapter. But, I personally find it’s a lot easier to read a book when there is some sort of structure or flow. I’m not saying that chapters should be equal, or close, or anything. I’m just saying, be aware of it. This tab gives you a quick view on how each chapter stacks against the others in terms of word-length and number of scenes.
If you reached the end of this post, but haven’t read the original post, I strongly recommend you check the text describing the first version of the novel outlining tool before downloading.
Download Version 2.0
Here is the download link: Master Novel Outlining and Tracking Tool.
Now that I’ve gone through a few cycles with this, tested it myself and gotten some feedback from various people, I think I am ready to start moving this idea into a full-fledged software application. If you have any ideas, thoughts, or would like to collaborate in any way, feel free to contact me.
And yes—people have asked—I will move my a$$ and create a full sample of the tool with an outline from a-z. I just didn’t have the time…
All the best and happy writing!