A Spreadsheet of Your Own: Manage Story Structure

When writing a story or a screenplay you have to manage scene sequence.  The sequence of the story scenes is the best way to build growing tension in your story.

You have done your homework.  You’ve identified your main characters, written background material for them, asked questions about their motivation and goal, etc.  You have brainstormed various scenes and noted them on 3×5 cards, in a story software program, or in computer files.

The best way to get a handle on the story structure and its overview is to create your own spreadsheet.  I’ve tried a number of “story” software programs and they all seem to have one glaring fault for me:  tiny windows that require you to scroll up or down to read your input.  This might work for brief notes, but now you want to create the big picture.

The big picture is composed of increments: the scenes and scene sequels that move the story forward.  When I’m thinking about where to place a scene I want all the information easily visible.  No scrolling one or two five-word phrases at a time, I want the big bite.

The good thing about creating your own spreadsheet is that you can easily manipulate the input that works for you.  Scene sequence, yes.  A memory jog of the conflict for the scene.  Which characters are in the scene.  The sensory information that gives the scene vitality—sight, touch, hearing, scents, and taste.  I try to have at least three sensory sensations for each scene.

At the top of the spreadsheet I create columns for timeline, scene, characters, conflict, sensory information, threats, and because there is a mystery the clues that might be in the scene.

This way, if I write more than a 5-word phrase I can instantly see my idea for the scene.  Also, I can instantly get an overview of the story flow.

The ability to see the entire overview helps me plant information early on in the story which will become vital as the story progresses.

I have found creating a spreadsheet the most straightforward way of managing the scene sequence and the story overview.  Of course, as always, this is a suggestion.  There is no right way.

3 thoughts on “A Spreadsheet of Your Own: Manage Story Structure

  1. I like the spreadsheet idea, but I’m having a tough time visualizing how it would look or how I’d create it. Can you post an example / screenshot of the type(s) of spreadsheet you use?

    Thanks.

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  2. Hi Mike, Thanks for your interest. I have a meeting with my co-writer today to work on a script. I will post a sample later.
    Later that day…entire day revamped by trip to hospital and course of antibiotics which knock me out. I won’t forget. Soon. 😉

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  3. Just set up a page Sample Story Outline Spreadsheet which illustrates the timeline/scene sequence vertically and bits to cover–or not–in each scene. Every writer will set up the spreadsheet with individual variables. Hope that helps.

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