Useful Writing Tools

Hey, SE Readers. Joan with you today. You’ve probably heard the terms planner, plotter, and panster. Some writers must have a detailed outline before writing the first word of a novel. Others write by the seat of their pants and let the story (or characters) determine what happens.

I’m somewhere between. When I begin a novel, I have a general idea of where I want it to go. I name my characters, know the inciting event that propels the lead character into action, and how I want the book to end.

Pansting has its problems. Among them are under-developed characters and flat settings (white room syndrome). Believe me, I’ve struggled with both.

To remedy the problem, I searched for various character sketches and settings tools. Some were too sketchy (pun intended), others too detailed. After being ready to give up, what did I do? Made my own. I took ideas from various sources, added some elements, and deleted others. I started to use Word, but I found Excel worked better for what I had in mind.

I have columns for character name, role, occupation, physical description, personality, habits, background, and notes.

For settings, I made columns for location (name), related characters, season(s), unique features, description, sights, smells, sounds, tastes, textures/sensations, and notes.

I don’t always use every column. If I have a minor character that makes only one or two appearances, I don’t need to know everything about them. However, I have learned to keep a list of EVERY character’s name. The more you write, the more you tend to forget. You might have a villain named Joe Smith in one book, and later decide to name your hero that in another. Loyal readers might remember and the name could cause them to immediately dislike the character.

Another tool I find useful is a calendar. I’ve tried timelines, but I find a simple calendar works best for me. Again, I turn to Excel and use one of their templates. Here’s an example from my novel, Unclear Purposes.

Does that look a little like an outline? 😊 Seriously, I doubt I’ll ever become a complete planner, but these few tools help me from getting too far off track.

Are you a planner or a panster? What tools do you find helpful for your writing process?

71 thoughts on “Useful Writing Tools

  1. I do outline my stories, though not too descriptive, just points to keep me on track. I do use a character proforma similar to your excel sheet, but never done one for setting. That I may give a go. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I just can’t go full plotter. Nor do I want to begin a project without having some idea of where I want the story to go. It’s always nice when other writers are like us. Thanks for stopping by today, Robbie.

      Liked by 1 person

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  3. I use an actual notebook. I have pages with characters and descriptions for each of them. After that, I transfer them to an Excel file. I do the same with my settings.
    I like the use of a calendar, I never thought of that. Like you, I am an in-between. I do some plotting and some pantsing. My vague timeline is done in my notebook then I add it to Word. I also add all of these to my Scrivener WIP.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I started to use a notebook when I began planning my Legends of Madeira series. Didn’t get very far. 🙂 Decided to try the spreadsheets instead. I did purchase a small journal that I use for brainstorming and I’ll probably do that for each new book or series.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Update on Shaxpir. After 3 days of trying to contact them, I haven’t heard back. The community forum is quiet as well. Some of my new work was on there, but my main project, thankfully, is being done on a Word doc.
    I may go back to pen and paper…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Love the calendar idea! When I plotted my series, I wrote each scene as day one, day two, etc. A calendar would have been so much easier. I tend to write a page for each character, but I never thought of digitizing it. Great ideas, Joan! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I tried writing a book without a calendar and it didn’t work. I can manage short stories but my novels tend to take place over at least two-three months. I only started the character/setting template with the currents series I’m writing. I make tabs for each book since some characters cross over. Thanks for stopping by, Yvette.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Excel is a terrific tool for organizing information. I use it for a number of things. I tend to use Trello for organizing writing. I think it falls under the heading of “using what we’re comfortable with” and I used Trello a lot for organizing projects. I think the key is to bring technology into the mix in a way that let’s you access the information you need at the point you need it. Having it accessible on the same device that you use for writing is ideal.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I do love excel for organizing and planning. The free calendar templates are so useful, I try to use them to schedule by life as well as my blog post. I like the way you use excel for writing of characters. It has so many great usages

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I am definitely a panster. I tried outlining but as the story progressed the outline didn’t fit the story anymore. I keep a list of characters and their short bios. It really helps me keep track. I didn’t do this on my current book and I’m having to do that now and fixing the inconsistencies. I once had two bad characters in different stories with the same name, so I watch for that too. Great post, Joan 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I can see huge benefits to this, Joan. For my first two books, I had a story arc but what went on underneath it changed considerably during the writing process. For my current one, I thought I’d be more of a planner. I mapped out a proper storyline but became hopelessly entangled in it. Then I wrote down chapters on index cards with what was going to happen and who was involved; I thought I could rearrange the order more easily this way. However, my characters had other ideas and I’ve not looked at my storyline or the index cards recently because fresh and more enticing ideas blossomed and the old ideas are now redundant.
    If I’d used a planner like this one, at least it would have been quicker and easier to adapt!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Thank you for sharing these great tools for helping craft a story, Joan. I have recently used Excel to keep a list of characters and their roles in the story. I find it to be helpful. I hadn’t thought of using an actual calendar from the time period of the story to set a timeline. Great ideas!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Great post, Joan. Thanks for the ideas. I use a calendar exactly like yours, but I think mine is a Word template, since I almost never open Excel. But I’d be lost without that, because I need to track the dates and make sure the timing is reasonable for what’s going to take place. And while I’ve been getting much better at keeping character sheets, I just use a Word Doc, with each character listed (1, 2. 3, etc) and include whatever is important about each one. I can type that out faster and so far it works. I also use a Word doc entitled What If? And that’s where I brainstorm. But I have a very cool bulletin board app (Scapple) that lets me set up as many boards as I wish, and I can pin my docs to that, OR simply post my ideas and notes directly to it. I use that more than anything else because I can pin photos, maps, and other things there, too. So I have a board set up for each book in progress, and one for ideas for future books. It’s a good way for me to keep everything in one spot.

    I think a lot of folks will be interested in both your calendar idea (it works great, folks) and in using Excel, if they are comfortable with spreadsheets. Thanks for sharing how you do it, and for giving us new ideas we may not have tried before. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

      • Scapple turned out to be the best thing I’ve ever downloaded, I think. I not only use it for writing, but I have bulletin boards set up for House & Yard Projects and a Main board, where I keep track of all my bills and when each is paid each month, and lots more. No more need for all those scribbled notes to myself that get lost almost immediately. I check things off as completed, and post things for long-distance projects, as well as more immediate jobs. I think of new uses all the time. Scapple RULES! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Great idea with the calendar, Joan. Never occurred to me. Thanks! I’m a planner. It’s fluid, though. The skeleton of the story (milestones) often remains the same, but if my characters zig instead of zag, I adjust the original plan.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Oooh, I like your calendar. I need to get better at using Excel. I like your spreadsheet too, but my spreadsheets tend to be very basic. Once I want to start wrapping text in a cell, things get clunky for me. After looking at these, I’m definitely going to try to create something better than what I use now. Love your ideas, Joan. And I am a planster, too!

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Pingback: Useful Writing Tools | Welcome to Harmony Kent Online

  15. Excellent ideas, Joan. Thank you. I’m going to try to follow in your footsteps, as I think the Excel columns and calendar will really help me. Just what I needed! 😊

    Liked by 3 people

    • They work well for me, Gwen. I have a workbook for my current series, with tabs for each book. It’s the first time I’ve tried it, but with a short story and one novel completed, so far it’s been helpful.

      Liked by 2 people

    • You know, I still like a paper calendar. We keep one hanging behind our kitchen door that our gas company gives us each year. My mother used calendars as a journal of sorts. I have several of hers. Needless to say, they’re special.

      Liked by 1 person

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