Using Excel to Create Your Outline

 Chapter Outline2


I’ve listed this tool first because I consider it to be the most important one and, ironically, perhaps the least used.

Using spreadsheet software, such as Excel, to create an outline for your work is practically essential.

This orderly approach may seem counter-intuitive – after all, aren’t we supposed to be writing from the heart and not the head?

Yes, we are, unless we’re writing business proposals or manuals, but a logical outline BEFORE you ‘put to chapter’ will:

  • Force you to complete and review your entire plot, brainstorming about new ideas along the way
  • Confirm your story arc (how the conflict develops and transitions), and give you the confidence you will need to get over the hurdle
  • Ensure your beginning will captivate the reader and your ending is strong and memorable
  • Help you to sequence your events and to identify the need for flashbacks, dreams and remembrances
  • Keep your chapters close to the same size and content
  • Assist in keeping a good pace by balancing action with background information in each chapter
  • Save you time and constant rewriting.

Your outline should have high-level descriptions of the main events for each chapter. As you write, you can fill in more columns that show the starting and ending pages, to calculate and compare chapter lengths.

When you finish your book and send query letters to agents, those who are interested will ask you for more details, usually some chapters and/or a synopsis. This outline will be the source from which you will create your synopsis.

Here’s a trick for those of you writing suspense:

To create a real page-turner (a la ‘The Da Vinci Code’), write each chapter only up to the high point, like when the gun goes off, for example. Move the scene’s outcome to the beginning of the next chapter – the shot missed our hero, but penetrated the hip of his sidekick. I used this technique throughout ‘Gut Shot on the River’.






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