• alisonahouse

How Many Spreadsheets is Too Many? | House Blog

Sometimes I get caught up in the minutiae… To be fair, one of my strengths as an editor is that I’m good at finding continuity errors, so it makes sense that when I’m writing, my brain needs to know everything about the world.


It’s why I find it difficult to write fanfic—I can’t relax and have fun with it because I need to make sure that everything is right and nothing is wrong. Nothing can be out of character, the descriptions all need to match, and it needs to fit seamlessly into the world.


I find it equally difficult to write in shared-worlds, since I’m always second-guessing myself. What if there’s no forest here? What if someone else killed this character? What if it’s been established that she hates oranges and I have her drinking orange juice?


Luckily, when it came to Variety Show, I only had 1 book to contend with. So, before I did anything, I read through Jacobi Street and made a spreadsheet of everything that had been mentioned – every person, place, and thing. That was Spreadsheet #1 - The Street.


Spreadsheet #2 - Characters. Some had already been established in the final chapter of JS, so I had to figure out who else I needed in this story, what their jobs were, how they related to each other, and how long they’d been on the street.


Now this is where I start to go off the rails…


Since my characters were performing a show – and this show was integral to the plot – I needed to know what parts they all had and what their rehearsal schedule was. And since I had characters working on the creative aspects, I also needed to know what kinds of props, effects, costumes, and sets they’d need to build.


So, I wrote a play.


It’s not actually a finished play, but I went through the original Phantom of the Opera novel and turned it into a play. I figured out what characters I needed, which ones I could do away with; what scenes I needed, and a basic understanding of what happened in those scenes.


This might seem like a lot of work for something that will never see the light of day, but it helped me relax, because if I had a question about the show, I could refer to the script. And to more spreadsheets...


Spreadsheet #3: Show Information. The character breakdown, and which parts could be doubled and by which characters. Also, set breakdown by scene; props breakdown; costume breakdown; special effects breakdown. (Normally each breakdown would get its own sheet, but I decided to cram them all in one place since I could sense that this was quickly getting out of hand.)


From there I could move on to Spreadsheet #4: The Rehearsal Schedule. This gave me an idea on what was being worked on each day, who to expect at each rehearsal, and when the Q2Q was going to happen.


I also had to make a list of Variety Show skits (Spreadsheet #5: Skits), because I realized that the timeline of the book was going to overlap a couple shows and I didn’t want any repeated skits.


The final sheet (Spreadsheet #6: The Theatre) was info about the building itself, what was on each floor, and also what happens to everyone throughout the story. It was a quick reference for basic things, and a place to jot a few notes if I needed them.


Now I know what you’re thinking – ‘That’s a LOT of work on things that aren’t going to be in the book.’ And, yeah, you’re probably right. But it’s a kind of meditation to me (frustrating at times, but ultimately helpful…). I do the work so that I can clear my mind and concentrate on the story without worrying about the little things. If I have a question, I find the answer and move on.


And it helped. While doing a round of edits, I discovered that the timing wasn’t right in one part and I had to fix it. And it was easy to do, because I had all the necessary information in one of my handy-dandy spreadsheets.


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