I use computer files extensively in my writing (ie, not just for the text of the story). Some of the additional files I use are described below. If you have any questions, or if you would like a sample copy of any of the files sent to you, please contact me.
For an overview of these and other resources, including general usage and warnings, see here.
I use a Microsoft Word template (‘story.dot’) to help to standardise the format of the story (and provide a few other benefits). Some useful characteristics of this file are as follows:
- A paragraph style is used for all paragraphs (well, duh!). This makes it easier to reformat the text to suit the preferences of individual agents or publishers.
- A heading style is used for chapter headings. In addition to standardising the styles of all chapter headings, this allows use of Word’s ‘Document Map’ (within the ‘View’ menu) to help to navigate around the story.
- A lower-level heading style is used for scene headings. This provides further assistance with navigating around the story via the ‘Document Map’. Of course, scene headings aren’t normally printed in stories, and the use of a style for such headings means that they can all be easily hidden or revealed in a single operation.
- A macro (mapped to the Alt-M key sequence) is used to toggle display of the document map.
- Styles are also used for embedded quotations and section breaks. This allows quick global changes to the formatting of such elements.
- A macro is used to count the words in each scene. The word count is appended to the scene heading.
- Macros (mapped to convenient key sequences) are used to quickly place and return to temporary ‘bookmarks’. For example, Ctrl-K 1 places a bookmark called Temp1, and Ctrl-Q 1 returns to that location.
This file contains all of the checklists used for a story (ie, all of the tables described here). For my current story, the checklists file is about ten times larger than the story itself! This is because the checklists include a fair amount of redundant information as the details are successively refined, and also because they contain numerous minor details that are deemed unnecessary for the story.
A useful feature of the checklists file is a pair of macros (mapped to keyboard sequences) that allows quick entry of forward- and back-references. This is especially useful for keeping track of foreshadowing. It can help to avoid having the foreshadowing occurring after the scene it’s supposed to precede, and/or deleting a scene that contains essential foreshadowing. You get something like this (note that the arrows are hyperlinks, and work as such in Word):
- Fred stubs his toe (→).
- (Lots of other stuff.)
- Fred can’t catch the criminal because he’s still limping (←).
One of most excruciating aspects of editing is that it is often essential to delete or change things you really love. This has been likened to murdering your darlings. To make this less painful, I maintain a file called ‘Murdered Darlings.doc’, in which I keep all of the culled out or massacred bits that I can’t bear to lose entirely. This way, it doesn’t feel so much like murder, but merely giving up for adoption.
In addition to story snippets, I also list alternative ideas and niggling concerns in ‘Murdered Darlings.doc’. Thus, the file become a complete compendium of ideas for further consideration. From time to time, I parse the contents of the file and consider the fate of each item. More than once, a murdered darling has been resurrected—although sometimes in a different form.
To make the file easier to skim, it’s organised in the same sequence as the story. Heading styles are used for each chapter heading, and each item also has a heading (with a lower level heading style). This allows use of Word’s ‘Document Map’ feature. Cross-references between related points are maintained using hyperlinked arrows (as here).
I use a spreadsheet to assist with scene scheduling. The name of each scene is placed in a cell, in addition to constraints such as dependencies on other scenes, holidays, weekday/weekend requirements, etc. Dates are listed down the left side of the spreadsheet, and the scene cells can be dragged around beside them. This makes it fairly easy to adjust the sequence and timing of scenes without breaking anything.
Towards the end of my current story, I had to dovetail events occurring in two widely separated time zones. This was achieved by using a separate date-time column for each time zone.
Other information about how I manage my stories’ timelines is here.
The list of sources from which the information above was derived is here.