Thursday, October 8, 2009

"Your face is familiar, but . . . "

So you’re four days into your book-in-a-week challenge and you’re tooling along great. Except you get to page 97 and you suddenly can’t remember if your hero has green eyes or blue eyes.

And did you describe your heroine’s hair as ash brown or dishwater blond?

Oh, and what about the klutzy neighbor you introduced on page 36? What was his name again?

Myra’s handy-dandy character spreadsheet to the rescue!

Some of our visitors may remember my Novel Planning Excel Workbook from last summer.
Since then, I’ve added one more spreadsheet, this one for tracking character information. (See download instructions at the end of this post.)

One way to use the chart is to fill most of it out before you begin writing, but you can also add to it as you discover more about your characters--or add new characters--during the writing process. If you need a different row heading to keep up with details specific to this book, or additional character columns, just use Excel’s “insert row” or “insert column” commands wherever you need them.

And the really cool part is that your character descriptions are now all right here in one convenient file, along with all the other vital information about your work-in-progress.

Having your important character descriptions listed side by side helps you see at a glance if too many characters look alike, sound alike, or otherwise cry out for greater variety. It may even help you brainstorm opposites (backgrounds, beliefs, quirks, secrets) to more effectively portray your hero/heroine or protagonist/antagonist conflicts.

Remember, any writing tool is only effective if it helps you write. And every writer is different. The more you write, the more you’ll learn about your personal organizational style--which methods help you get the book written, and which methods make you want to bang your head against your keyboard and scream.

So don’t get bogged down by the details or the pressure to fill out endless forms. If a system isn’t working for you, modify it to suit your personal style and needs. Or abandon it altogether and try something else.

Now get back to that WIP! It’s Thursday already, and you’re burnin’ daylight!

You can download Myra’s entire Novel Planning Excel Workbook here. Each time you start a new workbook for a WIP, be sure to use the “save as” command and rename the workbook to match your WIP title. That way, you’ll always have a clean master workbook for beginning the next project.

And don’t forget, Myra will be giving away a copy of
One Imperfect Christmas to one of today’s Seekerville visitors!


  1. Good morning fellow BIAWers!

    Myra, what a super tool- thank you so much for giving us the link to download it and your Workbook- you're a star! Thank you for an excellent blog today.

    And you're right, it's so easy to forget details - when I start writing my characters are all clear in my mind, but a couple of weeks down the track and I've forgotten all sorts of things!

    Another great tool for keeping track of character details are the character sheets in yWriter5- there are tabs for name, bio, notes, goals and picture. (yWriter- free novel writing software available at

    And now I'm going to put the coffee on for the early birds- today it's a South African speciality- Amarula. It's really good- the aroma alone is delicious.

    Happy writing

    Ruth Ann

  2. I couldn't sleep so I got up and wrote awhile. It's going extremely slowly but faster than if I hadn't made the BIAW goal. I see all my shortcomings and procrastination techniques clearly, too. Must make myself pick up speed!

    This post reminded me of one of my contest entries where my hero's name was Wade. In the middle of my pages, the judge drew an arrow to a name and said "Who's Wayne?" Oops.

    Uh, no, I didn't final, although I was new and didn't expect to!

    It's nice to know the coffee's on and I appreciate the companionship.


  3. Okay I'm stuck. I've been BIAWing my later scenes that weren't "fleshed out". Doncha love writer talk?

    May I ask how some of you do word count when you are editing? I'm not good with math. And generally words go bye bye when you're editing. So what can I do?

    Thanks Myra, especially, for linking to the whole suite of mind-saving spreadsheeets. I'm waiting for the next WIP, as I am already mired deep in way too many charts and note cards and corkboards. (The obesessively obsessive plotter in me is becoming a danger to herself).

    WRITE ON, You Crazy Writers, WRITE ON!

    I did the same thing. Changed my hero's name and I was sure I hit 'replace all' and didn't the old name pop up in a contest.

    Does anyone else use Ruth Ann's yWriter5?

  5. Myra, you put me to shame. I throw things helter-skelter into a word doc and just keep it accessible throughout because I mix things up too.

    Casey turned into Clancy.

    Hazel eyes went brown.

    Shelby turned up in two separate books, unrelated. Obviously I liked the name!

    Oh mylanta, this is so easy to do and Myra this looks like a perfect way to keep it all in check. Thank you!!!!

    Ruth Ann, you are amazing. The coffee is to die for and your ideas are a book in themself. Or would it be selves????

    yWriter5... I'm checking it out.

    Deb, do not worry about word count if you're revising. On revisions I go with page count. Makes more sense. In the middle of this week I got revision notes from Melissa and had to shift gears for that work and shelve the new project for a few days. So I'm working from page count between the two.

    I know there are a few of us who are revising this week, so just go at it. Grab some of these Entenmann's danish and/or donuts while you're at it. And I got a custard Danish (more of the old kuchen type) from Wegman's. Anyone who doesn't live near a Wegman's supermarket should move to where they've expanded and buy a house, like today. Tomorrow at the latest. I promise you won't regret it!


    Back to work. Loving this SO much.


  6. Myra! Wow! I love your spreadsheets! Thank you so much for making them available! What an awesome tool!

  7. Thanks for a great post, Myra! I'm definitely going to use some of your tips :) I'm writing the first draft of one book, and editing another, so I could use a little more organization! I think it was yesterday, and I mentioned a character's eye color, and couldn't remember if they were green, brown, or blue. LOL.

    Well, I think I'm going to write for the first time today before my energy runs out. Left my house a little before 3:00 this morning, and just got home, so I'm slowly running out of steam ;)

    Thanks for the coffee, Ruth Ann. I'd have some, but coffee makes me more tired than awake, so I'm stayin' clear of it. LOL. Hope all of those doing BIAW get satisfying word/page counts accomplished today,


  8. Wow! What a great resource, Myra! Thanks for sharing! I'll have to take time and feel in the categories for my characters. Maybe something new will reveal itself.

    Someone asked how to do word count while revising. Here's what I did...

    I'm revising a previously written novel because the full manuscript has been requested by an agent I spoke with at the ACFW conference.

    I separated the novel into chapter files. Kind of a pain, but it helped me to revise on a smaller scale instead of being overwhelmed by the large document.

    As I rewrite, I keep some of the old stuff, adding newer, better stuff increases my word count and page count.

    My goal is to have the 60,000 words completed by October 31. So I've created an Excel file that shows my daily word count and page count. I created columns with formulas much like the word count sheet in Myra's chart. When I'm done writing for the day, I type in the number of words I completed and the number of pages. That helps me stay on target for my goal of 2225 words per day and 9 pages per day.

    To come up with these numbers, I took the total word count (60,000) divided by the number of days (27) and came up with 2222, but I like round numbers so I did 2225 words. I took 60,000 and divided it by 250 because that's the average number of words on a page and came up with 240 pages, I think. I took the page number and divided it by 27--the number of days and came up with 8.8 pages per day. I rounded it up to 9 pages. These are not rough draft pages, but polished pages, so I have to really make sure my writing is as good as I can get it to be.

    After I do each chapter, I paste it into my original manuscript document and save it. Clear as mud?

  9. Good morning Seekerville! Thanks for the chart to track character information, Myra. Way better than the character file I use.

    I've found I can't trust the Find and Replace functions in Word. It does replace some, but not all. Anyone know why.

    Thanks for the Danish, Ruthy!


  10. I love it, Myra. Love it.

    Thank you!!

  11. LOL, Cathy, I did the same thing with a secondary character.

    Ruth Ann, well done on the java. MMMM MMM Good.

  12. Good Morning, Myra,

    I can't wait to download your spreadsheet. I like the idea of all the info in one quick file and from several of my day jobs I'm well versed in Excel.


  13. Awesome tip. Very, very clever. Thank you.

  14. wow. thanks for sharing such a nifty tool. i am such a novice, it isn't even funny. i'm not doing the BIAW (minor detail with my first baby getting prepped to enter world in about five days) - but i AM soaking up the advice the Seekers are sharing for after our little bundle of joy arrives. (i can brainstorm during breastfeedings... right?)

    in the meantime, thanks for presenting information and tools to enable even novice writers to feel encouraged about pursuing the wonderful craft of writing.

  15. Morning Myra, Thanks so much for the wonderful spread sheet. Your worksbook is a great tool also. And it must work because I LOVED your book ONE IMPERFECT CHRISTMAS.
    And timely too, because yesterday I had to set aside the alphasmart, turn on the computer and find out what Nancy had done in chapter five so it jived with chapter ten. yikes.

    Cathy I laughed at Wade/Wayne. I entered a contest and a male bear was threatening the heroine but by the third page into it, she had two cubs she was defending. The judge nailed me on that one. LOL

    And Ruth Ann, I even gave up my chocolate velvet to try the Amarula. Yummmm. Wakes one up for sure.

    And Ruthy, the pastry is yummy. I'm going to add a platter of bagels with cream cheese and lox. We picked up the yummy salmon while in Oregon. So fun to watch the fishermen out early catching the huge fish.

    Happy writing everyone.

  16. Sandra, perhaps your mama bear had forgotten to wear her straw hat with the flowers and you just thought she was a daddy bear. Simple mistake.

    Ruthy, I'm really into those mini pecan sticky buns at Weggies. Kryptonite! They flaunt them in your face at the coffee bar next to the express lane.
    Thanks also for the suggestion on how to edit and make a word count while trying to track BIAW. I sat at my keyboard this morning and couldn't find any new scenes to work on, so it's back to editing.

    Oh Internal Editor. Please come back home. All is forgiven!!

    Please put me in the running for your book, Myra. Thanks!

  17. Thanks for the greast spreadsheet, Myra! I have one but it's not nearly as great as this one!

  18. Up front, I already have a copy of "One Imperfect Christmas."

    Also, I was late getting to the party yesterday. Was afriad Ruthy might think I wasn't answering the bell.

    Myra, love the spreadsheet, but my problem is a little different. My book is set in Japan? What does this mean?

    Eye color: Dark brown
    Hair color: Black

    The easiest descriptions out there are unavailable to me.

    This is not 100%. In my first Japan-based manuscript, I gave my heroine a streak of red hair. This trait is not uncommon, but it is still rare enough to draw a reaction from anyone who sees it. (And like most Japanese women, my heroine hides her red streak.)

    I have to use dimples, hair styles, hair length, etc. I would appreciate suggestions. (My heroine in my another manuscript will always have a 16th century purple scrunchie.)

  19. Hi Myra,

    Thanks for this new spreadsheet! It has things on there that I don't even know about myself! LOL.

    Your generosity of spirit in sharing your expertise is greatly appreciated and it's what I love about romance writers in general. We're willing to help each other!

    May the words flow for everyone today!

    sbmason (at) sympatico (dot) ca

  20. Thanks for this great tool. Looking forward to using it!

  21. Myra, this is exactly what I need for those secondary characters!! Thank you!

  22. MYRA!!! I'm in awe of you, my friend!!! Thanks for the great worksheets.


  23. That's awesome, Myra. All that organization ... well, it kind of makes me break out in hives. But I wish I WAS this organized. Because I forgot hair color in my last book, and I have the heroine sporting brown eyes at one point and blue eyes at another, and this book is set way before colored contacts. Not good. I'm just afraid I won't catch those mistakes every time. Your spreadsheet would work really well for this.

  24. Myra, being a chart/list person, I LOVE THIS!

    Thanks for sharing it with us.

    Back to work....

    Waving to everyone. Nice job all! Hope everyone has a mega productive day,


  25. Just downloaded the worksheet. NICE!!

  26. Myra, I LOVE this! I'm an accountant at my day job, so I'm a spreadsheet junkie. Somehow I've been tracking my character charts in Word, so when I saw your chart, I thought, "Duh - Why didn't I think of that?" :-) I love the idea of comparing all the characters side-by-side!

  27. I need this, Myra. Wow, simple. I could maybe almost handle this. :)

  28. Myra strikes again. GREAT spreadsheet, and as someone said, better than the one I was using.

    thanks a bundle!

  29. Leave it to me to be late to the party--AGAIN!!! My excuses:

    1. Breakfast always comes first, then my Earl Grey and the morning paper.

    2. Next up is morning devotions.

    3. I am sadly out of shape so went from devotions to Wii Fit.

    4. Got sidetracked cleaning out my e-mail inbox until I saw a Google alert that MY POST was up in Seekerville!

    And so it goes . . .

    Anyway, so glad you're having fun with my latest spreadsheet addition. I wish I'd thought it up 5 or 6 book mss. ago, but actually it really only started developing and mutating several months ago. I'm sure it will go through a few more stages as I figure out more stuff I really ought to keep track of.

  30. Such a good idea to keep a style-sheet...and something I'm always telling myself I'll do with my NEXT story. Since I'm in the planning/plotting stage of my next story, I'm thinking I should do it now!

  31. And you know the amazing thing about all this spreadsheet stuff? It might make you assume I am also a plotter.


    I am a 95% certified seat-of-the-pants writer.

    Which actually, if you think about it, makes it that much more vital that I keep good records. Otherwise, who knows what kinds of rabbit trails or eye color changes my poor characters would endure!

  32. Wow, Myra, thanks a bunch for sharing that great information!


  33. Walt, another way you can use the eye/hair color rows in the spreadsheet is to write down the primary ways you've described that character in the actual book.

    For example, you introduce Mr. A saying he has coffee-brown eyes and ebony hair.

    So you wouldn't use those same descriptors for Ms. B. She might have onyx eyes and jet-black hair.

    Corny examples, but maybe you see what I'm getting at.

  34. Great tool, Myra,

    I try to write things down was even formulating my calendar that from 975 BC to 2166 AD, to keep my brain on track. Talk about a pain, my poor head put up the white flag early on. It gets derailed so easily.

    But this is why you write a futuristic novel where the characters have eye flecks and body bugs that can change eye color, hair color and body weight and skin color on a whim.
    And people can jump around through time.

    Pick a day any day. And if you miss, hey so what.
    Then people think it's supposed to be that way.
    I'm planning to make all my historicals futuristic too.


    You believe that? Me neither, I think a time travel is harder because you have a few more centuries to get lost in.

    I must say my wordage is down from the first day, bummer, but then I did take a sick day so I could stay home the first day and labor over my story whilst sitting on the couch.

    But I'm still gonna beat ya'll

    Yeah. Right?

    Keep those keys a clicking.

    Havng to

  35. Your post went up just after midnight, Myra. (I know. I was up, having just posted my short story. I just wasn't conscious enough to post intelligibly.) Thank you SO MUCH for the wonderful spreadsheet! I had tried doing something like it, but it's way less useful than yours!

    I read Mom some of the comments, and she reminded me that when she was writing on an old manual typewriter as a girl, she had a little notebook she filled with names, descriptions of characters, their relationship to each other, etc. She could have used the spreadsheet then! (BTW, I've seen one of her character notebooks, and it's very detailed!)

    Thanks for entering me for the book, too!
    hope_chastain [at] yahoo [dot] com

    Hoping to get at least SOME work done on my ms today. After all, I have Cheryl's orders to rescue that wip! ;D

    Walt, go for differences in bone structure, too. Shape of the head. Set of the cheekbones. Set of the eyes. Differences in complexion. Has someone spent a lot of time in the sun? They'll have a tan. Oh, and remember the differences in the language. Not sure how you'll translate that into English, but Japanese is divided into Very Polite (e.g. watakushi), Polite (watashi), & Vulgar (wasshi). Polite language is used most often, but the lower classes would use the Vulgar, and the upper classes, or when speaking with nobility, the characters would use the Very Polite (or Most Polite) language. I'm sure you can find subtle nuances to give the impression of this!

    Happy writing, everybody!

  36. So you are an organized pantser, Myra. My kind of gal.

  37. Oh, Hope, please don't remind me how HARD writing was in the "olden days" of typewriters! I am so glad to be in the computer generation!

    My very first computer was a Kaypro II, with the teensy black screen with green letters. The storage was two 5-inch floppy drives, one for the program, and one for saving your work. I used WordStar way back then and thought I was hot stuff!

  38. Walt, were you paying attention? It sort of sounds like Hope would be a good research source for Japanese characters and culture.

    I politely bow to your expertise, Seeker-san.

  39. Yes, that's me, Tina. An organized pantser. If I can't plot my way out of a paper bag, I can at least keep good records of what the inside of the bag looks like, how much time I spent there, and what my GMC was--LOL!

  40. Thanks, Hope. I have been mixing it up. For example, in my first manuscript, there is an exalted father with three sons. The brothers speak in contractions to each other, though the youngest son is a little more polite with his brothers. However, when the sons toalk with the father, none of them speak in contractions. What I do is I make the language stiff or relaxed, based on the characters in the scene. It was the only way I could incorporate keigo (Japanese polite language) into the story.

  41. I do ywrite5 is awesome!!! It is free at

  42. Hi Myra:

    Thanks, again. Your spreadsheets are just what I need. They will take a lot of time and thought to complete so I am going to fill them out after BIAW. I am however using the ‘Character Details’ right now as I come up with new details.

    BTW, I am now reading “One Imperfect Christmas” (just before I go to sleep) and it does not read like a romance. What genre would you call it? Is it mainstream?


  43. Hi, Vince! Glad you are having fun playing with my spreadsheets.

    I personally call One Imperfect Christmas romantic women's fiction, which is really what I enjoy writing most--a love story about a woman, her struggles, and her relationships.

    (I hope it isn't putting you to sleep every night!)

  44. Can you believe I was ten thousand words into my book and just today realized I've never really DESCRIBED the heroine?
    Myra! You saved me. Your post saved me.

    I've got the spread sheet mostly done now and the cool thing is, I feel perfectly content to NOT fill the whole thing in, knowing tha the document is there and when I come to some new trait, I can at that point to add it to the character chart and then have it at my fingertips to refer back to.

    This book has a hero who is a secondary character from Cowboy Christmas. So he's fairly well developed. Her, not so much.

    I'm really loving the BIAW thing. Can we do this every week...please!?

  45. Yay, I saved Mary!!! My work is done here!!!

    I wish.

    Instead of doing BIAW, I am toiling, toiling, toiling over some badly needed revisions. Three new words, ten deleted. Move this paragraph here. Slice and dice that one. Kick a few to the curb.

    And all the while the angst of wondering, Is this any good????

  46. Coming in late, but I just got in from work and have been computer-less for the day. What was my life like before I became addicted to cyberspace?!?

    Thanks Myra, what a GREAT tool. I've already downloaded it and saved it to my computer. Yipee. Another way to become more organized...and believe me I need all the help I can get.

    If possible, I find pictures of my characters and put them in the front cover of my notebook - you know the kinds of folders with the clear plastic covers. Then, I always 'see' them in front of me, but that doesn't help with all the minor characters...or when I can't find a decent picture. Thankfully, I have friends who are constant 'lookout' for character doubles.

    That's just something I need to do because I'm a visual learner...writer...whatever.

    Thanks again for the spreadsheet, Myra. It's people like you who make my writing life easier. :-)

  47. And btw, Myra...I feel your pain. I'm revising and the story I thought was brilliant has sudden lost its' shimmer. AHH! Could it be "I grown accustomed to her face" a little too much ;-)

    Tonight, before I start editing again, I'm going to take some good advice and pray...ask God for the initial spark He gave me when I started writing this book before the Dawn of Time and begin revisions again. He always puts things into the right perspective :-)

  48. Hi Myra:

    During BIAW I cannot allow myself time to read for pleasure during productive working hours. So I’m reading a little in bed each night using a big magnifying glass because the type is too small and too light for me to read. I could not find “One Imperfect Christmas” as an eBook or large print edition. However, I am not using “One Imperfect Christmas” to put me to sleep.

    BTW, the story is very interesting. Last night the daughter ran away upset with both parents. My spirit wanted to know what happened next but the flesh needed rest.

    Actually your writing resonates with me much like Elizabeth Berg’s writing and I love her work. I’m just going to savor your book and enjoy the experience. No hurry.


  49. I just want to point out that it is SNOWING IN COLORADO. BIG FAT FLAKES.

    Now get back to work BIAWERS.

  50. A post from Gail K--I will attempt to teach her how to get into Blogger soon.

    I have failed at connecting to s-ville blog, BUT I am writing like crazy and just had to tell you I'm approaching 15,000 words.....some really good How are you doing? It would be fun to hear how at least one person is coming along this week! Thanks, Gail K.

  51. I love to find pix of my characters, too, Pepper. Usually from sites like Getty Images or iStock. I print them out and stick them on my office bulletin board, also paste them into my Word file character bios.

    Vince, I have good news--if it's not too late. My book (and several other Abingdon fiction titles) were recently made available on Kindle. So glad to know the story resonates with you. I'm honored!

  52. Tina, you can keep your snow. At least until Christmas, anyway.

    We are having thunder, lightning, and rain here this evening. I should be writing "It was a dark and stormy night . . . "

    Hubby is being sweet and fixing supper. I should go down and help him. Chat with y'all later (or else in the morning if I don't make it back to my computer tonight).

  53. Sounds as though you have things well in hand, Walt! Great! It should read very well!

    Myra, my first computer was an Osborne OM-1 that friends gave me when they changed over to IBM. It used CP/M, and I could only get 64k of information on those 5" floppies! Loved my WordStar & dBaseII, though! Now if I could only find some way to get that information off those old floppies and onto a USB drive.... :D

  54. Oops! I didn't know we were supposed to be showing up for roll call every day. Count me present!

    Today was my most productive day, maybe not on the screen or in word count but now I actually have an idea of where my characters are coming from and where they are headed!

    Myra, thanks for the spreadsheets. They will be so helpful to me. Today I started writing about something a character named Dottie said, before I thought, "Hey! Who's Dottie?"

  55. Hi Tina:

    Everything is going better than NaNo has ever gone for me over the years. As of 7:30 pm tonight I’m at 12,627 words and that’s for only three days. The first day I wrote 10 pages of additional instructions about what needed to be in the novel.

    I have so many notes, over 100 pages, that I haven’t had any desire to slow down. I figure the book is going to be right at 100,000 words so there is a very long way to go yet.

    BIAW is really working for me. And, as I can see, it’s really working for you, too. But…I don’t want to do this every week as someone suggested. Good luck everyone.


  56. Hi Myra:

    That’s good news! I’ll be looking for the eBook. I need the Sony version but they often do whatever Kindle does. Julie’s “Passion” series came out eventually at Sony and even two of Camy’s books are now available. I’ve been waiting for Mary’s books to go eBook but I haven’t found any yet.

    Ebooks are the best way for me to read anything. On my computer I can make the type 26 point and read the copy from three feet away sitting in an easy chair. It’s better than TV!

    Back to BIAW.


  57. Myra, I LOVE this!! Thank you so much for sharing!

  58. You don't have to show up every day. But we did miss you, Mary Bailey.

  59. You guys have been having fun, haven't you? The energy here is contagious.

    And, Myra, from one Excel junkie to another....

    your spreadsheet rocks!

  60. Great post, Myra! I've had a heck of a time deciding which last name to use for my hero and this looks like a fantastic solution.

    And I am ten scenes away from finishing this book! I plotted it out using scene cards Cheryl taught on earlier this year and plan to write the next three days--Sunday after church--so it's possibly that by Monday, I'll be done!

    Thanks so much for being such great 'cheerleaders.' You gals rock!

  61. Wow, Patty that really is awesome.

  62. Thank you, Myra! I downloaded your sheet and it's a treasure trove! I love it and I'll be using it! :]

    Thanks! :]

  63. Well, I don't know whether to blame all the Seekerville BIAW excitement this week, the 1/4 caffeinated instant French vanilla latte I sipped yesterday afternoon, or trying to brainstorm the necessary changes to my WIP as I was trying to get to sleep last night, but it was after midnight (and a couple of sleep aids later) that I finally got to sleep. I do not do at all well on less than 7-8 hours of sleep, so another late start today.

    What a great week--so much progress being reported! So glad for all of you die-hard BIAW-ers.