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Using Excel to plot your story and more

Using Excel to plot your story and more

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This is a presentation I gave at the 50th annual "Boskone" literary science fiction convention in Boston, Massachusetts in February, 2013. It covers the different ways that Excel can be used to aid in brainstorming, developing an idea, building a plot, and considering alternatives when writing a story

This is a presentation I gave at the 50th annual "Boskone" literary science fiction convention in Boston, Massachusetts in February, 2013. It covers the different ways that Excel can be used to aid in brainstorming, developing an idea, building a plot, and considering alternatives when writing a story

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Using Excel to plot your story and more

  1. 1. Available in paperback, Kindle, and Nook www.vincenthoneil.com
  2. 2. Using Excel to Plot Your Story and keep track of characters, and brainstorm different ideas, and much, much more
  3. 3. OUTLINE • Introduction • Developing an idea • Developing a plot • Developing alternatives • Conclusion
  4. 4. Brainstorming • Even if you have a full-blown story in your head, ready to be written, take the time to brainstorm it anyway • Brainstorming is nothing but the process of letting one good idea lead to another • It really pays off – and it’s fun (you get to indulge your creative side)
  5. 5. Standard Brainstorming • Do some research (if applicable) • Write phrases and words on a sheet / sheets of paper in random order • Jot down everything that comes to mind, no matter how irrelevant it might seem • Don’t try to connect the ideas yet • The less sense it makes, the better
  6. 6. Glory Main Initial Ideas • Story of survival • Small cast of marooned characters • Almost no resources -- starvation • Barren planet • A micro story of survival inside a macro war for survival
  7. 7. Brainstorming: Include everything n s i z atio y n log o rga no Na e h L arg f tec tu re o o Role f th ew Sco Jus ar u t ch tW arac ar o ter r Un s j us p on tW ar? w ea , How did they get there? ter LT , wa ’s d m Foo ot Psychoanalyst character iva ti o ? n? t in g Gu lf b f igh etw we een y are ch a rac n Wh y? ter s r b ee en em e wa i s the h a s th Type government? W ho n g s? o w l gres Ho ro p
  8. 8. Associate some of the ideas Na How did they get there? tu re y olog o f th chn ew Foo o f te ar d , wa le ter, Ro w ea Jus pon tW s ar o r Un j us Type government? tW ar? r been How long has the w a ? In progress? ht in g LT’s motivation? ig Sco yf ut cha the ract er y are Wh Gu m y? lf bet Psychoanalyst character e ene we en oi s th cha Wh rac ter s
  9. 9. Consider Options and Develop y Na How did they get there? olog tu re n s Food, water, weapons ft ech a tion o f th le o aniz Just W ew Ro org ar ar ge or U Don’t know each other Lar nju Type government? st W Don’t know where they are ar? A little water and nothing else ar been How long has the w ? In progress? t in g igh Revealed as story w ef moves along are hy y? W en em the o is LT’s motivation? Wh Scout charac ter New character: Pacifist Psychoanalyst character Idea: Each character has something he / she is hiding or something about Gulf between characters him / her that’s unexpected
  10. 10. Focus on One Aspect of the Story Similar to humans? Unknown? Who is Alien but material? the enemy? What do they want? Alien and immaterial? Then expand on them
  11. 11. Expand on Each Item Similar needs Greatest fear Similar environments How to fight them? Flying blind Resemble humans? Similar to humans Unknown? Who is Alien but material the enemy? Visible Physical target Is it acceptable? Food and atmosphere What do they want? Alien and immaterial Their needs can be a weakness Is it a trick? Advantages and Disadvantages How do they fight US? What is their power?
  12. 12. Developing the Plot • Flesh it out – identify the points and ideas you want to get across • Index cards – write the events on separate cards; these can be easily rearranged • Spreadsheets – computer form of index cards • Follow the characters, events, and themes all the way through to ensure they make sense • Identify the high points / key action as such
  13. 13. Outline vs. No Outline Maybe let the rough draft write itself: Difficult because you might end up with a LOT of re-writing to do (inconsistencies will show up in a close read-through) Helpful because it doesn’t force the story—the real story develops as it is written, not as it is conceived
  14. 14. Index Cards or Excel Write each scene / theme / character on a separate card / in a separate cell You can rearrange them and add to them as the story develops Initial idea: Why were they going Jack and Jill up the hill? went up the hill Why is it significant Jack fell that Jack fell down? We’ve lost track of Jill. down What did she do?
  15. 15. Index Cards or Excel Fill in the blanks by asking the Five W’s and adding the answers Initial idea: Developed idea: Jack and Jill Jack and Jill Why were they going went up the hill went up the hill up the hill? To fetch a pail of water Why is it significant Jack fell down Jack fell down that Jack fell down? and broke his crown We’ve lost track of Jill; And Jill came What did she do? tumbling after
  16. 16. Basic Plot in Excel You now have a long column describing all of the main events of the story Jack and Jill went up the hill To fetch a pail of water Jack fell down and broke his crown And Jill came tumbling after
  17. 17. Character and Plot Matrix Characters Morning Afternoon Evening Time Jack Asked Jill if she Went up the hill In the hospital would go with him with Jill. Fell and to fetch a pail of hurt himself water Jill Agreed to go with Tripped while Explained what Jack running for help happened Doctor Seeing routine Summoned by Jill Treated Jack patients This can show you where an overlooked or missing character is needed
  18. 18. Glory Main Plot Creation Find themselves marooned on a barren planet Characters meet; scout wants to leave Search the lifeboat and then abandon it Go to higher ground to determine where they are
  19. 19. Concepts Tab (Excel) The Conflict Characters Situation Themes Intergalacti New LT Marooned; Survival c war little water, no food, no weapons Long Jaded Scout Don’t know Maximize duration where they resources are This can also be a useful arrangement of your research
  20. 20. Characters Tab (Excel) New LT Jaded Scout Psychoanalyst Basic officer Serving against Not allowed to training; leader in his will; distrusts perform her usual sports in college higher authority job Ignorant but Self-reliant; Has learned many learns fast; good would want to skills outside her leader leave the others job These separate tabs can be combined to form matrices
  21. 21. Cut & Paste Information Events Timeline can be event-driven Event 1 Or actually time (Monday, Tuesday, Day 1, Day 2, etc.) Event 2 Event 3 Event 1 Event 2 Event 3 Character A Characters Character B Character A Character C Character B Character C Fill the matrix with detail about what each character is doing / thinking / feeling
  22. 22. Combine Tabs to Create a Matrix Cut and paste information you’ve already considered Character Tab Events / Plot Tab Marooned Abandon lifeboat High Ground The Lieutenant Taking stock of Convinces the Realizes he is in the situation scout to stay with over his head them The Scout Attempts to leave Leads them to Figures out what the group high ground planet they’re on The Argues with the Annoys the Grudging respect Psychoanalyst scout lieutenant for the scout’s abilities The Pacifist Obeys orders Helping out Pleased by developments Expand and fill in from Events / Plot Tab
  23. 23. More Advantages of Excel (1) The matrix allows you to switch actions from one character to another Marooned Abandon lifeboat Higher Ground The Lieutenant Taking stock of Convinces the Realizes he is in the situation scout to stay with over his head them The Scout Attempts to leave Leads them to Figures out what the group high ground planet they’re on The Argues with the Annoys the Grudging respect Psychoanalyst scout lieutenant for the scout’s abilities The Pacifist Obeys orders Helping out Pleased by developments
  24. 24. More Advantages of Excel (2) Switching actions can help develop characters and the story Marooned Abandon lifeboat High Ground The Lieutenant Taking stock of Convinces the Impressed by the the situation scout to stay mapmaker’s skills The Scout Attempts to leave Leads them to Sees they have a the group high ground chance The Argues with the Annoys the Sees the pacifist Psychoanalyst scout lieutenant as a potential ally The Pacifist as a Helping out in any Sketches a chart Figures out what mapmaker way of the area planet they’re on
  25. 25. Identify the High Points • If you consider a segment to be a high point or key area, the reader should feel the same way • Build it up, make it clear, or just hit them with it, but a high point really shouldn’t feel the same way as explanatory passages High Points Beginning End
  26. 26. Other Technology The beauty of the “Find” function
  27. 27. The beauty of the “Find” function • Track characters all the way through • Make sure characters’ names stay consistent • Go anywhere in the book quickly if you have a question about that sequence
  28. 28. The ‘Making Of’ Approach Imagine you’re being interviewed on a variety of topics, (characters, plot twists, settings, events, intentions, etc.) as if it’s the ‘Making of’ part of a DVD
  29. 29. The ‘Making Of’ Approach (2) The “I imagined the town as a living thing, a body with a fatal illness . . .” Town “At first the gun was just the murder weapon, The but then I asked, ‘Where would this average Gun guy GET an untraceable gun?’” The “I’ve always felt that murders came in two varieties: Planned and Unplanned.” Murder
  30. 30. The ‘Decision Tree’ Approach You have LOTS of choices . . . Start with Write out the pluses and minuses of the big decisions: -1st person versus 3rd person the big -‘Whodunnit’ versus a story wrapped around a murder ones A little more specific (once you have some ideas): A little later -The murder weapon: Found / not found -Witnesses: Saw but won’t talk / saw but undiscovered Circle back and reconsider: -What if they DID find the murder weapon? Much later -What if there were no witnesses? (Play with this; what could happen if there were no witnesses at first, but then they found one?)
  31. 31. Conclusion • Get an idea by brainstorming or letting the research inspire you • Decide how you are going to get your idea across or tell your tale • Flesh it out using an outline, index cards, a spreadsheet, or whatever works for you • Follow the characters / events all the way through
  32. 32. Available in paperback, Kindle, and Nook www.vincenthoneil.com

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