Ah, my spreadsheets…
I have a lot of them, and I’m very attached to them.
Once I realized my little contemporary drama was going to be not-so-little, I started a spreadsheet to track a few things, and in retrospect I’m so glad I did. It’s far easier to work on timelines and lists as you go than piecing things together later or trawling through previous books to find out when something happened.
My most often referred to spreadsheet is the overall timeline. Initially it tracked the timeline of the books, but I soon had to go back in time to add events at the ashram (from Wynter’s past), events from the boys’ past, and then their parents’ lives all the way back to their births. In fact it starts in 1935, when William (Bill) Brown was born. He’s Patricia’s father, and he built the diner on Cougar Mountain and named it Patty’s, after her.
This timeline gets going in earnest when Harry and Miriam meet (1987). Each year is subdivided into months and gives me everyone’s age at a glance, as well as their school level and major events in their lives. I’ve also added in a few other characters in case I ever need to figure out, for example, when cousin Jessica is due to graduate high school or when Luke’s Army Reserve contract will end.
I jumped all over the place filling in details here and there as I wrote the books, but looking back now it gives a nice snapshot of what was going on. Here’s what the Fairn boys’ year looked like right before they met Wynter the following January:
The next tab on my spreadsheet is an outline of the novels with exact dates – even when those dates weren’t specified on the page, since I often need to refer something that happened “three weeks ago”, or keep track of when a birthday or school break is coming up. Here’s a snippet from the start of Out of Tune (book 2) where each line represents one or two scenes:
As you can see, I track whose POV the scene is, and the word count. During the writing stage this ensures I don’t forget about a character, although in the above novel Caleb’s not getting any love and in fact doesn’t get a POV chapter for another 12,000 words!
The next spreadsheet is a “family schedule” that tells me what each character does with their week (which changes book by book) – such as when Jesse tutors, when Wynter has Mail Order Chicks rehearsals, etc. I realize how pedantic this sounds, but I don’t want to have Wynter showing up late at the breakfast table on a Saturday (due to someone else’s plot requirement) when she’s supposed to be getting up early to teach at the music store.
Then I have an extensive list of girlfriends and boyfriends across the series. This is most useful when referring to previous relationships – for example, if Jesse names a girlfriend from the summer after he graduated high school, I jot it down in case he happens to name her again when he talks about that summer at a later time. (I’ve created dating timelines for each character on the Wynter Wild Wiki – you can see Jesse’s here.)
My other spreadsheets include:
- Caleb’s house rules (these are mentioned throughout the series, some numbered, some not, and new ones are added – not always by Caleb) – you can read the entire list here.
- The band’s income from streaming (don’t laugh, I wanted to graph their income in order to make jokes about how small it is) as well as when certain songs were released and how they charted, just in case anyone needs to mention them again.
- Jesse’s YouTube subscriber count (to make sure the numbers he cited were rising).
- Jesse and Wynter’s progress on watching his lengthy list of science fiction movies in chronological order (since they occasionally refer to movies by name and I needed to know what decade they’d reached).
- Some mini-timelines with hour-by-hour events (such as Jesse’s trip to the UK in book 10, which is interspersed with the rest of the band being in LA awaiting his return – I needed to sort out how it all fitted together, given the 8-hour time difference).
- A secondary character timeline for people related to the Light, to keep track of events that happened across several years, behind the scenes, in book 10.
The final one I should mention isn’t actually a spreadsheet – it’s a (private) blog I used to write before and after my daughter was born. For our relatives overseas, I wrote all about her milestones and funny moments. I’ve referred back to this for books 9 and 10 to remind myself of a baby’s development.
As I wrap up the series and think about other stories I could write with these characters, I know the first timeline in particular is going to be invaluable as a starting point. I want to write at least one story from the Fairn boys’ childhood. I’ll be starting a new spreadsheet (yay!!) and will go through the books to make note of all the incidents they’ve already described, slot them into place over the years, and then choose an event to center the story around.