How to Create a Spreadsheet to Organize a Novel

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Keeping track of characters, conflicts, subplots and settings may be one of the many challenges of writing a novel, but a little computer technology can go a long way to organizing your next fiction best-seller. Creating a spreadsheet for your book gives you a comprehensive overview of your project, keeping its elements structured and coordinated as you move through the writing process.

1 Chapter Master List

Making a spreadsheet that incorporates each chapter can let you see what the story looks like from beginning to end. To make a chapter outline spreadsheet, create columns for the chapter numbers and chapter titles, as well as a brief description of the most important event in each chapter. You can also have a column that estimates how many pages you think the chapter will take to unfold. To see a visual representation of the story's plot arc, you can use horizontal columns to break the spreadsheet into sections for exposition, rising action, the climax and falling action.

2 Character Color Code

If you have multiple characters coming and going in different subplots, you can use spreadsheets to make a visual aid of what each character is up to throughout the story. Make a spreadsheet that breaks the entire book down into scenes, setting up columns for which chapter the scenes occur in, where the scene takes place, what characters are involved and the main events that move the story forward. Then, assign a color to each of your characters and change the color of the cells according to which scenes are centered around which people.

3 Meet the Characters

While authors often write information sheets for their characters that include their personality traits, habits, likes and dislikes, putting this information into a spreadsheet offers the benefit of being able to compare your characters' personalities. Set up columns for the characters' names and one-sentence summaries of their journey throughout the story, as well as traits like appearance, values, temperament, ambitions, goals and significant relationships with other characters. Then, fill out each character's section of the spreadsheet with this information, taking note of which ones might be interesting to put in a scene together at some point in the story.

4 Keeping Tabs on Your Story

Many spreadsheet programs allow you to include tabs, categories that let you set up different spreadsheets within the same document. Using the tabs function, you can set up multiple pages for character development, scenes, the main character's journey and any notes you make along the way. As you're writing, you can easily jump back and forth between the different tabs to get information from each section. For example, you'll be able to see both the main action of each chapter and a master list of the characters' traits so you can determine how they might behave in a given situation.

Kori Morgan holds a Bachelor of Arts in professional writing and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and has been crafting online and print educational materials since 2006. She taught creative writing and composition at West Virginia University and the University of Akron and her fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals.