Outlining A Novel In Microsoft Excel

Ever since I started outlining my novels (I used to be a staunch anti-outliner, but I’ve since converted), I’ve used the same format. Sometimes I handwrite them, sometimes I type them on the computer, but my outlines mainly consist of bullet points that summarize scenes in the order they occur. The order can change once I’ve written the book, of course, but that’s the basic format I’ve been using.

However, I’ve heard of this idea of using Microsoft Excel (or another spreadsheet program like iWork Numbers or LibreOffice) to outline a novel and it looks like an intriguing idea. Writers Karen Woodward, Adam Blumer, Kat Zhang, and Michael Martinez, to name but a few, have written helpful posts about this.

The main advantage, it seems to me, is being able to see how all the scenes fit together as a whole and being able to move them around easily, especially in the editing stage. I’m working on draft #3 of my science fiction novel and I want to change the order of some of the scenes in the first act. Doing this is easier said than done, though, and it would be helpful if I had an outline in a spreadsheet to help me.

I got so excited about this idea on Saturday night that I randomly started outlining a novel in my spreadsheet program, Numbers, a part of Apple’s amazing iWork suite. Yes, I know the last thing I need right now is yet another novel on my mind… but I can’t help it that I was so excited to try out this new idea!


2 thoughts on “Outlining A Novel In Microsoft Excel

  1. I’m interested to hear how this goes. Frankly I don’t see the advantage over outlining with bullet points in Word or any other program (such as Notes in iPhone) that lets you cut and paste. But maybe I’m missing something?


    1. For me, being able to move the lines around and see the whole story is helpful… I color code things, usually by character POV. Plus I have a column for which plot or subplot that scene is from. Admittedly, I have not been keeping my outline for my current WIP updated as I edit, so maybe Excel isn’t the answer to every writer’s problems! 😉


Comments are closed.