Why Writing your Synopsis in Excel is Excellent

Here is a screenshot of a short section of my story synopsis. Mmmm tasty spreadsheets.Excel Synopsis and Scenes to Sequels explanation If, like me, you are attempting to edit a godawful-sonnova-dogdamned draft, one that you wrote over a series of years, and you’re onto your forty-thousandth draft with no end in sight, you might want to try something similar. Here’s my reasoning:

Why have a Synopsis at all?

1. To Help Foist Your Wares

Agents want a synopsis. Hell, often they want two, a short one that details the essence of your tale, and a long that gives a blow by blow. The former could be a few pages, but the latter could be a voluminous text in its own right. Mine is currently at about 1:10, or 100 words of synopsis for every 1000 in the actual draft. It could easily be 12,000 words on its own. So yeah, as well as to help with editing, these could potentially help with catching an agent

2. To Remember WHO YOU ARE

No, not really, although thank you, Mufasa. A synopsis helps your story remember who it is. You might have written a fascinating chapter about the state of pine forests in the wake of land reform (you laugh, but the author of The Princess Bride, William Goldman, actually did this…) but that is not part of the story. The story is about scaling the cliffs of doom, only to face a duel to the death, for the sake of true love.

You will remember what your story is about, and probably re-write a lot in the process. It’s okay, your synopsis is the blueprint for the things you’ll fix later.

3. To Help You Wield the AXE

You’ve written eighty hundred bajillion words in this draft (some you haven’t seen since 1963). When you’re reading through, unless those words are an ultimate-in-suck, chances are you will keep them. This is just what we do. It’s hard to wield the axe.

But do they need to be there? Could the book live without them? Here’s a simple test – do those words contribute to the core of your story, the stuff that made it into the synopsis? Because if they don’t directly support what’s happening in the synopsis… well, there’s your answer.

When you go back and compare your synopsis to your draft it’s like having a freaking orbital-laser, blasting words off the page below, watching them run screaming… Fun times *wipes tear from gleaming eye*


Why Excel, then?

1. Scene or Sequel?

That question has been an enormous help, as it allows me to identify each part of my wibbly-wobbly draft and ensure that it’s fulfilling its potential. Scenes and Sequels are quite new to me, but I feel like they’re the secret sauce I’ve been missing. There’s a bit of an explanation in the screenshot above, but basically you’re dividing your work up as follows:

Scene, where protagonist has a goal, meets conflict, and then disaster. This flows into…

Sequel, where the protagonist responds emotionally, thinks about the quandry, and then pulls together a decision. This flows back around into another scene, and the cycle continues…

Until the story’s  conclusion, where you finally get a scene without a disaster at the end of it, and your poor exhausted reader can put the thing down. Phew.

2. Tracking Your Other Bits

Take another peek at the screenshot above. Do you see the other extra rows Beneath each scene from the synopsis? Character Development, World Building, Relationships, all of these have their own arc within the story, and naturally you’re going to develop a headache trying to keep track of them.

You’re already writing a synopsis, so why not jot these things down AT THE SAME TIME? The static 1st column will remind you of these important points so that you remember to record them as you go along (Google how to freeze cells in excel if you’re unsure how to set this up). Making stuff easy on yourself. Efficiency!

*uses saved time to dance on the smouldering bodies of the words culled by orbital laser*


So what am I forgetting? Does anyone have an even better way of doing this stuff? Let me know!

Best regards,




About D.R.Sylvester

A Clinical Research Associate by day (google it), writer by night, D.R.Sylvester lives in Sydney, Australia with his patissiere wife and Siberian Wolf. His interests include travel, music (predominantly Metal), reading, & archery.
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7 Responses to Why Writing your Synopsis in Excel is Excellent

  1. Ooh, that looks awesome! I’m always looking for new and more convoluted ways to use an Excel spreadsheet. 😀

  2. Millie Ho says:

    Jeez, you’re really hammering it home that I need to plot on the computer. I’ve been doing it all on pen and paper for now, but your reasons are compelling enough for me to migrate. Do you use Scrivener to plot?

    • Haha! I do and I don’t. For plot notes and ideas I’d stick to the humble notebook, but for actual layout yes definitely.

      As for scrivener, I probably should. I’ve heard so many good things about it. To tell the truth though, at the moment I’m feeling like I want less functionality rather than more, if only to avoid having to figure out another writing platform…

      Excel makes things simple. Hurr durr I like simple

  3. I’ve never been much with Excel, TBH, but I think this is an interesting approach.
    As for Scrivener, I’m gaining some new appreciation for it. Once I can really concentrate on such things, I may just transition to using it exclusively and dumpling my Office subscription…

    • At the moment I’m borrowing Chuck Wendig’s excuse of “I’m too stuck in what I’m doing at the moment to try starting with a big new system.” Still, I will look at it after this current book is done.
      PS – mmmmm dumplings

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