A few months ago, I published a post that contained the first version of a novel outline and tracking tool for Excel. This is the second version of that tool, including several fixes, improvements, and additions. I strongly suggest that you read the first post before jumping into this one to fully understand. In this post, I am only discussing the new additions.
The new version includes a few bug-fixes, updates in the general look-and-feel, and various text edits here and there. I also tried my best to improve the documentation and add comments on the headers wherever I felt an explanation is needed. So, wherever you see a little red triangle in the top-right corner of a cell, you can hover your mouse, and a text-hint will pop up, like in the image on the left.
Changes in the Scene List
Not too much changed here, except for one thing: I’ve added an Act column. If you subscribe to the 3-Act structure or a different similar Act-Based structure, this is helpful, and it plays out into the Cards, which I explain below. Below is the new header.
It’s not unusual for a novel to include multiple plot lines. They might be parallel, intertwined, connected, complementary, or a combination thereof. Either way, there will be a few most likely. This tab allows you to track the plot lines. At this point, I’m not entirely sure how this will play out in the overall picture, but as I was plotting my novel, I found like I needed to know this. The Plot Status at the end of the story should be “Closed” in most cases, but if your novel is a part of a series, there might be plot lines that are left open or uncertain. The difference between open and uncertain is: “open” is the hero swearing to kill Xyz on the last page of the novel, and “uncertain” is the alien egg that appears in the last scene.
As soon as I started outlining my novel with this tool, I immediately realized that the concept of the Timeline was missing. As I was writing the manuscript, I made mistakes such as having people travel way too fast between places, not allowing enough time for things, and so on. So, I realized that a way to track the time when things happen became critical. So, I came up with this worksheet called Timeline.
The header is loosely divided into PAST, PRESENT, and FUTURE. Feel free to copy/insert columns if you need more space. The Actual Date row header allows you to put actual dates, and on the following rows, it calculates the difference in days, months, and years relative to the START, which is your novel’s “present date” set up in the Dashboard. The scene list is automatically copied from the previous tabs, so you don’t have to worry about that.
At the intersection of each scene row with the date column, you will make the cell black (background) and put an “x.” That’s important, as you will see in a bit when we get to cards. As you start filling in the cells, you are defining the timeline of your novel.
Lots of people love the way that index cards look like when outlining. I thought this could be rather cool to have here. So, I created a fully-automated Cards tab. It draws all its data from the Scenes list without any intervention. Here’s a snapshot:
And here is a more detailed anatomy of an index card:
If you used the Acts column in the Scene list, as I explained above, the sheet would automatically color-code your card headers with different colors for Act 1, 2, and 3.
After you finish your scenes, don’t forget to use the filter on column V and un-check the “No.” That will hide any blank cards. This sheet prints in landscape mode by default, and you will get 20 cards per page. If you move rows around in your Scene List, the cards will update automatically.
Even though there’s an intensity chart in the Charts tab, I felt like a visual intensity model would help in parallel with the scenes. So, in this tab, you have the scene list on the left and the graphical representation of the intensity (0-100) on the right. As you read through your outline, make sure the intensity matches the scene you are planning. You should see some mountains and valleys as your novel’s intensity goes up and down as the story progresses. That is derived directly from your Scene List tab.
Last but not least, the Chapters Tab. Just like everything with writing, there’s no set rule about chapter length or the number of scenes per chapter. But, I find it’s a lot easier to read a book when there is some structure or flow. I’m not saying that chapters should be equal, or close, or anything. I’m just saying, be aware of it. This tab gives you a quick view of how each chapter stacks against the others regarding word-length and number of scenes.
If you reached the end of this post but haven’t read the original post, I strongly recommend checking the text describing the first version of the novel outlining tool before downloading.
Download Version 2.0
You can continue downloading version 2.0; however, I highly recommend downloading the latest version from this post instead: Master Novel Outline and Tracking Tool V3.
Master Novel Outline and Tracking Tool V2.0
Novel Outlining – What’s Next?
Now that I’ve gone through a few cycles with this, tested it myself, and gotten some feedback from various people, I think I am ready to start moving this idea into a full-fledged software application. If you have any ideas, thoughts, or would like to collaborate in any way, feel free to contact me.
And yes—people have asked—I will move my a$$ and create a full sample of the tool with an outline from a-z. I just didn’t have the time…
Now, before you go, I have…
3 Questions For You
- What do you like or hate about this novel outline method and tool?
- How would you improve it? What would you add or take away?
- What other methods and tools do you use for your novel outlines?
Please share your answers in the comments below. Sharing knowledge helps us all improve and get better!
Hi there! I’m Iulian, and I want to thank you for reading my article. There’s a lot more if you stick around. I write about personal development, productivity, fiction writing, and more. Also, I’ve created Self-Growth Journey, a free program that helps you get unstuck and create the beautiful life you deserve. Enjoy!