That’s One Small Step for a Writer . . .

Lately, I’ve been participating in a weekly write-in. A group of us get together one night per week and sit together writing away for 30-minute sprints. After each sprint (we typically do two or three), we talk about how many words we wrote (or edited) and potentially what we are working on. No reading, no critiquing. Just writers writing, but together, for encouragement and solidarity. And maybe a little idea-generation.

I’ve been working on a short story (probably a novelette) set in the world of my Urban Fantasy series, which I call The MCU Case Files. I’m trying to get a handle on some of my characters, and one way of doing that is to write about them as the main character of a shorter work. They may or may not ever see the light of day, but the exercise is valid for my purposes.

For the last couple or three meetings, one of the other writers has been working on plotting his next novel. To do this, he is using a hand-drawn grid on paper, and we asked him to explain what it is and how it works.

Turns out, it’s a version of what JK Rowling used to plot her Harry Potter books. Basically a spreadsheet. Intrigued, I decided to look it up. Nothing else has seemed to work for me, so it couldn’t hurt to try one more thing, could it?

Order of the Phoenix plot spreadsheet page

Order of the Phoenix plot spreadsheet page. Click to embiggen.

I’m not plotting just the one book, of course. I’m plotting three at once, and keeping myself open to ideas for books four (already have the situation, just no plot) through six, as well. For hints I could drop in early. Not bad for a story that started as a first-sentence-writing exercise, huh? Over the last few months, I’ve identified the six or seven major plot points that will arc through the books.

Over the past few days I’ve played with my own version of this. I’m not doing it by hand, though. How gauche. :) I’m using Excel, because I have access to it at work and access to Excel 365 for free through the Microsoft website, so why not? I’ve completely thrown out the entire plot of the second book and substituted one that makes more actual sense, that ties in neatly with the plots of books one and three. And refined two of the other subplots, and added one new one.

I’ll save that thrown-out plot, though, for book five. Or maybe six. Depending. Now that I’m working through the plotlines, I’ve changed the rules of magic a little to accommodate some stuff, I’ve moved some things from book three into books one and two, and just generally been happily manipulating text in a spreadsheet. It even looks vaguely like work if you happen to walk past my cube. (As does this, since I’m writing it in raw HTML.) :)

I hope this is the right tool for me. I’ve been foundering on trying to keep all this in one coherent place for a while. Pull one string, and the rest tangle like iPod earbud cords in your backpack.

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3 Responses to “That’s One Small Step for a Writer . . .”
  1. Kim Iverson says:

    I never heard that that outline (J.K’s) was for one book. How did I overlook that? Lol Now it makes more sense. I must have read it and just didn’t remember. I’m curious how this method will work for you. Does outlining on a computer generally work better for you? I find paper better so I’m gonna try this for my Sorceress series rewrite I have to do.
    Kim Iverson recently posted…Doing something that scares the living hell outta meMy Profile

    • All the information I could find about the page says it’s just one page of her plot for Order of the Phoenix. My problem with paper is I make a LOT of mistakes, and end up moving columns around, and with Excel, I can just drag and drop or erase and replace. With paper . . . that’s not as easy. So I hope it will continue to be helpful. Updates will come. :)
      Gary Henderson recently posted…That’s One Small Step for a Writer . . .My Profile

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  1. […] while back, I posted something about J. K. Rowling’s method for plotting the Harry Potter series. After I posted that, I played around with the format until I […]



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