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.


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.


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.




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?

How do I revise thee? Let me count the ways...

Welcome back! Happy New Year!

It’s revision time here. Or do I mean editing?


No. Revision. That’s the process where we step back and look at the whole forest of plot points and characters and what scenes go where, while editing is the paragraphs, sentences, words.

I’ve been using information from three bloggers— Jami Gold, Janice Hardy, and KM Wieland— to sort through my weaknesses of:

  • getting a consistent goal on the page,

  • getting motivation on the page, and

  • getting the stakes on the page.

You noticed the commonalities among those three points? Getting it on the page! That’s pretty important for the reading of the story. If the goals, motivations, or stakes for the protagonist and the antagonist are not evident, or at least alluded to, there’s no tension in the story and if there’s no tension, why would anyone at all be interested in reading to the end of the story?

Creating A Worksheet

I’ve created worksheets. Several.

From Jami Gold’s blogs on Broken Story and on Missing Motivations or Stakes, the worksheets are simple word docs. I type her questions then answer it from the information I have written in my story.

It does sound like homework but it’s much more fun because it’s about a story that I am still thoroughly enthralled with and I’m trying to get it all out of my head and onto the page so readers will find it just as thrilling.

As I answer the questions, if I find I have not put this information, somehow, into the story, I either go right there to write it in OR, if it’s complicated, I’ll highlight that answer so I can go back later and find it after I’m done answering all her questions.

It’s not easy work. Broken Story alone has nine steps. I was able to complete Steps 1- 4 in one day on Dec 28, 2018!

Yes, I dated each step as that gives me a sense of accomplishment.

applying the Steps

What are the steps for Broken Story from Jami Gold’s blog? Here is how I handled her first three steps.

  • Step 1 - Identify what I’m trying to say in the story.

    Here I wrote down my theme. Since my theme focuses on coping with various levels of violence, I broke it down into the different levels and different types that happen in the story. The spectrum of violence encompasses: physical, emotional, economic, institutional, societal, and familial. I also looked at the opposite of violence and listed specifically what the antidote to violence is. What does love and courage look like in my story.

  • Step 2 - Identify what pieces of the story fit with this and what pieces don’t. Do the plot developments, character insights, story elements tie into the theme identified in Step 1. Do my subplots reflect the theme of dealing with violence through courage and love? Do any aspects of my story undermine the theme and focus of my story?

  • Step 3 - Are there enough scenes that fit the theme or are there enough bits and pieces of the theme that all I need to do is tweak or shift the scene a bit so that it’ll refocus on the big picture again.

I have found this process helpful for layering my story and making sure I have on the page, what I have envisioned in my imagination.

How do you handle revisions?