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Thread: Using A Spreadsheet for Outlining and Brainstorming

  1. #51
    practical experience, FTW Rockweaver's Avatar
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    i used MS Word for the outline and OneNote for my notebook to keep all my odd thoughts in.
    OneNote became part of MS Office in the 2010 edition prior to that it was a add on you had to pay a mint for.

    this is the link to the MS site for the product
    http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/onenote/
    i started using this for work and it took me about 3 weeks to see how it could help with my book project.
    now its not for everyone and i don't make a dime for telling you about it. but it is a good tool for you to know about.
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  2. #52
    figuring it all out
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    This Excel tip is a revelation. I use Scrivener for writing - but since reading this thread a few days ago I've been trying out the excel method for outlining a plot, characters, etc, and I've made more progress in three days than I did in three weeks before that. I guess structure works for me... So - thank you!

  3. #53
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    So there is openoffice.org and there is another spreadsheet program that is escaping my mind presently, that I like. I've heard of libreoffice, which must have a spreadsheet too. hmmmm

    @Gault: I don't see how the spreadsheet allows for changes, like when they got married, and it only refs the present day this way, so I guess, the life span of each nominal character will get their own excel page...

    I use notepad++ because it allows me to have tabs, loads of files loaded at once, and also doesn't mess with the formatting. I can't stand copying and pasting from word or browser only to get added fonts and colours. Think I've given it a good go, and it has still stayed. I can't imagine going back to Notepad or Word. xx

    After editing this a few times I now find the paragraphs with html code.

  4. #54
    Cultus Gopherus MacAllister SuperModerator Medievalist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by halley View Post
    So there is openoffice.org and there is another spreadsheet program that is escaping my mind presently, that I like. I've heard of libreoffice, which must have a spreadsheet too.
    Libreoffice was forked from OpenOffice; open office is no longer being updated.

    Google Apps also has a spreadsheet.

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  5. #55
    New writer since 07/2012. Cornelius Gault's Avatar
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    [To Haley] Re: Excel Spreadsheets

    Quote Originally Posted by halley View Post
    So there is openoffice.org and there is another spreadsheet program that is escaping my mind presently, that I like. I've heard of libreoffice, which must have a spreadsheet too. hmmmm

    @Gault: I don't see how the spreadsheet allows for changes, like when they got married, and it only refs the present day this way, so I guess, the life span of each nominal character will get their own excel page...

    I use notepad++ because it allows me to have tabs, loads of files loaded at once, and also doesn't mess with the formatting. I can't stand copying and pasting from word or browser only to get added fonts and colours. Think I've given it a good go, and it has still stayed. I can't imagine going back to Notepad or Word.

    After editing this a few times I now find the paragraphs with html code.
    [@Hally]

    See the top of this thread posts 6, 7 and 8, where I included screen shots from the Excel spreadsheets that I have used.

    Each character (or event) has a line, with the birth date, marriage date and death date in different columns.

    There is 1 cell in the spreadsheet that contains the "current date" - from this, you can calculate the person's age as of the current date and also the person's age (if they have died) from DEATHYEAR - BIRTHYEAR.

    You could include a column that calculates how old the person was when they got married, if you felt that was important.

    The great part about a spreadsheet is "what if" - You can easily adjust the birthdates of both man and wife until the man is 20 when he marries the girl that is 18.

    I also have another page that shows all of the same dates where each column is a different year and the character's life is shown from the BIRTHYEAR to the DEATHYEAR (or CURRENTYEAR if still alive). This makes it easy to show the relationships between characters. For instance, The uncle was 70 when the grandson was born. If I move the uncle's birthdate to 5 years later, I can see that I need to adjust the grandson's birthdate by the same amount to keep the story correct. If I change the MC's birthdate and thus he is now married when he is 9 years old, I can adjust various other dates to correct the problem.

    These techniques give you a big picture of the characters in your story. It would be easy to include text like this in your story (which I think adds a little to the realism of the story):

    * John was 19 when he first met Sally. They were married a year later, when John was 20 and Sally was 19.

    * John's mother was 49 years old when he was born. His father died when John was 2. His mother was remarried 2 years later when John was 4.

    * John and his cousin, Mary, were 5 years different in age. There parents were the same age. Their grandparents both died in the same year.

    A lot of these types of things would be more difficult if the writer didn't commit some of these dates to paper (or an Excel grid). If the reader says, "Wait a minute, that would have made the man 3 years old when he was married", that would be a major blunder -- and COULD happen if you change one date without noticing how it impacted other dates or characters in your story.

    I don't use a separate page for each character in Excel, but I do have a separate character biography in Word at the end of the story. This helps me keep track of my different character traits, at least until I get to know them.

    NOTE: I have used NotePad++ (which I love, BTW) while working on parts of my story, but the main thing is in Word so I can use formatting, Table of Contents, word counts, page counts, pictures, footnotes, etc. I can have several files open and size them on the screen to include more than one at a time, then copy/paste between them as needed.

    NOTE: If you are copy/pasting text from Word or websites directly into Excel you can avoid all of the formatting problems if you use EDIT | PASTE SPECIAL | TEXT ONLY.

    An alternate method is to paste it first into NotePad and then copy/paste it from there into Excel.

    I hope this helped.
    Cornelius Gault
    WIPs:
    * Columbo Fan Fiction (new)
    * Murder-Mystery Elements (ongoing)
    * Detective 12 Parallel Novel (ongoing)
    * The Gault Legacy (shelved)
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    --- as of 01/21/2015 ---

  6. #56
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin KyleDuncan's Avatar
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    Spreadsheets and notecards

    Starting out I fill notebooks with loads of notes, whatever comes to mind about whatever I'm working on. I find using a spreadsheet to be excellent in organizing all that random stuff into the semblance of a coherent whole.

    Something else I find helpful, after the spreadsheet is all tweaked and the outline is worked out, is to write the high points on note cards. I post them on the wall so they are in view as I sit at my desk and work at the computer. It helps me to have bits of it visible instead of in a file minimized at the bottom of the screen as I'm working.

    Sure, I could put up the spreadsheet as I'm working in the word file, but I don't I like to have the word file maximizing the screen, enlarged as big as possible.

  7. #57
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin KyleDuncan's Avatar
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    I've heard of OneNote, but never figured out a system to organize everything on there! Using it to organize ended up driving me batty. Do users of OneNote have a particular manner they set up the OneNote notebooks so as to be more user friendly? Sorry if I missed a previous posting about this. Just curious how you set yours up.

  8. #58
    Rookie Juan Merlot's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by badducky View Post
    [Moderator's Note: The following posts are the work of badducky, also known as novelist J. M. McDermott.


    Hey guys and dolls of the speculative end of the bookstore, I got a bit of advice for ya:

    Don't brainstorm into the messageboard. It's a bad idea. It won't help you.

    Do it into an excel spreadsheet, a notepad, a word document, an rtf document, a coloring book, or any other form of personal notationalism that you can reference alone, and edit and tweak and all that jibber jabber.

    Brainstorming into a message board is not useful. In fact, it can give you an easy affirmation that can steal your thunder when you're writing.

    So, don't spill it here. Spill it where you can write it and fill it out with characters.

    Thank you, and good night.
    I never thought of using excel like this. Awesome idea!

  9. #59
    New writer since 07/2012. Cornelius Gault's Avatar
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    I included in screen shots in Messages 7 and 8 above, but I had to post it on my Weebly page to be able to link to it directly.

    What are other methods of including/sharing an Excel file so that I can share actual examples with other AW people, instead of just including text descriptions and screen shots?
    Cornelius Gault
    WIPs:
    * Columbo Fan Fiction (new)
    * Murder-Mystery Elements (ongoing)
    * Detective 12 Parallel Novel (ongoing)
    * The Gault Legacy (shelved)
    * Story Elements (shelved)

    --- as of 01/21/2015 ---

  10. #60
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    I have found using Excel and One Note together works well for me. I'm very new to writing but years of experience with MS software including programming.
    Excel is great for creating timelines

  11. #61
    Dreamer Elorenalory's Avatar
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    Outlining in Scrivener

    I use Scrivener http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php

    I think it's the best software out there specifically tailored for writers. You can do everything in it - outlining, character and location worksheets, drafts. And then you can export the whole manuscript with one easy click.
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  12. #62
    figuring it all out
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    Great ideas

  13. #63
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin KimikoDreams's Avatar
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    hopefully i'm not saying anything that's been said a hundred times before but you can use excel to jot down what you want each chapter to be about and then you end up with a sort of outline that you can write from.

  14. #64
    Just have fun. Dancre's Avatar
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    I use a spreadsheet and separate pages for all my major good guy/bad guy and some minor characters as it helps me to understand them better.
    http://kimkouski.com/

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  15. #65
    Gravity Sucks sheac's Avatar
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    Thank you for the advice.
    Current WIP:
    A fantasy of sorts...

    If you want, feel free to drop by my blog!
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