KM Wieland

Spreadsheets for revisions

I’m in waiting mode.

Waiting for my story to come back from a beta reader. Waiting to see if my short story made it to the top three in the contest. And it’s a gray Monday morning. Quite bleak and blech looking outside.

So let’s do something fun—spreadsheets!

Although I’m not reworking the chapters of my story, I’m still thinking about it and analyzing it. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been studying specific blogs from Jami Gold, Janice Hardy, and KM Wieland to measure how well my story is working.

By measure, I do not mean formulaic. But readers come to story with expectations—there will be two forces tugging against each other because they have goals that conflict with one another, their struggle will be set in a particular time and place, there will be (if the story is lengthy) a series of setbacks and advances until the FINAL big victory and defeat. If there is no tension in the story, why would a reader continue to turn the pages?

When I am writing or revising, it sometimes feels like all I do is fiddle around with words (true!) and I accomplish nothing (not true!). This is where a spreadsheet comes in handy.

Three Act Structure

Stories are divided into three parts: beginning, middle, and end.

How much of a story falls into each category? According to blogs I’ve read, the middle is often the biggest at 50% of the story. The beginning and the end contain 25% each.

But, I’ve also read that some stories shorten their beginnings to twenty percent and add the extra five percent to the middle. This is how I’ve chosen to roll with my story.

Spreadsheet

Below is just one of my excel spreadsheets. Under Act One, I list:

  • my chapter title

  • my January 2019 word count

  • my current word count

The figures in both the January and current word count columns are the same as I’m letting my story lie fallow while my beta reader has it. Some chapter titles have the year listed in front of them.

Behind the current word count, you’ll see I’ve bolded the major Plot Points that fall in Act 1; Launch (or Hook) and Inciting Event (or Inciting Incident). The red squares list the antagonist’s actions that I want to make obvious in that chapter.

3+Act+Structure.jpg

My chapter titles won’t necessarily be part of the finished book. But the titles help me recall what each chapter is about and, better yet, they may make it easier to write out the synopsis when the time comes.

After I write for the day, I enter the figures (from the word count listed on the word doc of that chapter) into this sheet. You’ll notice the bolded figure of 20,047. That’s a sum function I’ve put in place to help track the number of words in Act 1. Up above, you’ll notice the figure, 13,362, which is where the Inciting Incident comes in at. KM Wieland lists 12% (middle of Act 1 because she uses 25% as the amount of the story to be in Act 1) as the ideal place where readers will expect some event or incident to add tension and kick the story up another gear.

Revision Experimentation

When I’m revising and having problems with the line-up of my chapters, (I’m currently having problems with my Act III. Again.) then I will add an excel sheet.

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Revise

Experiment

As I write out what my next steps will be to edit and revise my story, I sometimes find myself deadending. I’ve dead-ended (pun intended) a couple of times at the ending.

Not the very very end. I’m quite happy with my resolution and the new normal world.

But my problem is with the most exciting chapters when Act III starts to the resolution, the climactic sequence that leads to the climax, the high point of the conflict. You’d think that would be easy to write.

Act III is complicated because there’s so much to wrap up and wind down in order to provide a victory and a defeat.

Since I have certain pieces in place (I’m just not happy with their placement), I like to experiment with where they might go, doing so on a totally new sheet. That way, I don’t risk ruining my spreadsheet with all the figures and sums listed on it.

And with that…it’s time for me to get back to sorting out Act III.

Do you create your own excel sheets to use to track your progress through your writing?

Rituals and Formulas

Today’s post was inspired by KM Wieland’s blog post: Four Ways to Prevent Formulaic Story Structure.  

Pie.jpg

As I read through Wieland’s article, it reminded me of conversations I've had about worship rituals and some of the codifications and objections that a community of faith will have about their specific rituals. She asks a couple of frequently asked questions, including,

Indeed, won’t story structure inhibit your creativity by forcing you to conform to a preconceived format?
— KM Wieland

A similar question can be asked about ritual, “won’t the same ritual, performed each week, inhibit our ability to connect with God because we are asking God to meet us on (or conform to) our terms?

Rituals, within the context of a community of faith gathering, have a structure, some set pieces within a certain order. Speaking as a United Church of Christ pastor, our rituals go roughly along the lines of:

  • Lighting of candles/Gathering song/Welcoming Guests/Announcements
  • Call to Worship
  • Opening Song
  • Prayer of Invocation or Confession or People's Concerns and Joys
  • Passing of Peace and/or Children's Time
  • Theme Song that relates to Scripture passage or sermon 
  • Reading Scripture passage from the Bible
  • Sermon/Reflection/Meditation
  • Prayers-Pastoral/Concerns and Joys/Silence/Lord's Prayer
  • Collecting the offering of money and Prayer of Dedication
  • Closing Song
  • Being sent out with a blessing or a commission

Other denominations within the Christian tradition will have their own specific rituals. And Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists all have their ways of gathering in community to honor the Higher Being, the Holy One.

Ritual or story structure does not have be rigid, following a particular path. Instead, ritual and story structure provide a framework, that allows connection with the Divine or a flow of creativity.

The trick is that we need to have the formula or ritual so deeply ingrained within us that it lays underneath our writing or our worship. As Wieland writes,

Rather, with the strong basis of that structure underneath you, you have the security to try as many new and interesting things as your imagination can dream up.
— KM Wieland

Take the Lord’s Prayer. It is something that is said during every worship service within many Christian church worship service, as noted above. After a while we say it by rote, by memory. When I taught confirmation to youth, some of the youth complained about the boredom of saying the Lord’s Prayer. And it is! Memorizing and stating something each Sunday, without thinking about it is tedious.

But if we take time to study the words, something happens. I remember reading a commentary about the Lord’s Prayer several years ago, that remains with me to this day. That author wrote that if we had any consciousness at all about what we are praying for, we would not enter the church unless we wore hardhats, ready for a rollercoaster ride. Because we are asking for God’s kingdom/realm/community to come on earth…as it is in heaven.

For Christians who believe that God created all things for good, we have strayed a long ways from our Biblical role as stewards of the earth itself and all the sentient creatures who inhabit this planet.

Whether we are writing or worshiping, we have a process to create great stories or an inspiring community of faith. It’s a process that involves:

  • becoming aware of and desiring involvement or participation in the craft of writing or in a worship ritual
  • learning the foundation of story structure or of faith rituals and why the foundation is used
  • intellectual memorization, repetition, boredom
  • more learning
  • an internalization of the foundation of structure or ritual that, in crafting story, allows us to be truly creative and original and, in our faith life, allows an opening in our hearts for the Holy to find us in the most unexpected of places.