Friday, October 12, 2007

Stephanie Zvan's Very Smart Writer's Spreadsheet

My friend and fellow writer, Stephanie Zvan, built a really useful novelist's spreadsheet quite some time ago and I've been meaning to talk it up for ages–with her permission of course. It's a very smart tool for looking at story on a scene by scene basis. Across the top are a series of categories, each with it's own column and description.

The top row looks like this-reading from left to right:

1. Blank
2. Scene Functions:
3. Scene Plot
4. Story Plot
5. Character
6. Emotion
7. Senses
8. Info/Worldbuilding
9. Going Beyond/Literature
10. Blank

The second row has corresponding descriptions for each column. So:

1. Blank.
Scene

2. Scene Functions:
Description (of scene function)

3. Scene Plot
What are characters' immediate goals? What conflicts are set up or resolved?

4. Story Plot
How does this scene advance or hinder characters' long-term goals?

5. Character
What's revealed or demonstrated about characters? Do they grow or change?

6. Emotion
What emotions is this scene intended to elicit?

7. Senses
What senses have you engaged?

8. Info/Worldbuilding
What necessary or cool information is given to the reader?

9. Going Beyond/Literature
What elevates this above narrative? Illuminating metaphor, wicked description, elaboration on theme(s), etc.

10. To Do

The first column then has a list of scenes by chapter running from top to bottom, 1a, 1b, 1c, 2a, for however many chapters and scenes are appropriate.

This allows the writer to look at each scene and how many of the goals it meets in an eyeblink and also to do a more in depth analysis of the piece on a topic by topic or scene by scene basis. As a spreadsheet it also allows for the writer to easily expand the number of topics covered.

One could add a column listing all the characters who appear in each scene as a tool to see whether some characters could be merged or eliminated. Or in a novel with many points of view, a column that says who is the POV character for each scene might allow for tying some sense or tag to each character to make sure that is engaged in each scene from their POV.

Please feel free to ask questions about the thing in comments. I'll take a swing at some of them and I imagine Steph will stop in periodically to answer as well.

4 comments:

MariAdkins said...

Sounds like a very useful document.

Stephanie Zvan said...

Hi, Mari.

It can be. Looking at the, uh, thoroughness of it, it can also be a bit intimidating. I admit I mostly treat it as a checklist while revising ("Yep. Looked at that. That too."), rather than filling in all the information for every scene. But I'll write everything out for a problem scene or one that just "tastes" wrong for some unknown reason.

MariAdkins said...

But I'll write everything out for a problem scene or one that just "tastes" wrong for some unknown reason.

I like that plan! Thanks!

Janet said...

Some interesting thoughts here.

I set up a spreadsheet with a timeline as the vertical axis (rather than scenes) and characters as the horizontal one, so I could see what each character was doing when and how old they were. Seeing as the story spans about three decades, that was important. It also helps me look at the story from each individual character's point of view, which has also been helpful.

Now I might have to set up a second one... ;o)