My story is missing something, but what? A novel is a complex creature. At some point in the writing process, I find I must closely re-examine the plot in order determine what the story needs.

Editor Shawn Coyne’s The Story Grid method offers excellent tools. (I first wrote about this series here: “The tough nut of revision: on re-examining plot.”)

Seeing your novel on one page will help make story needs clear.

Another basic tool Shawn Coyne offers is the one-page story summary form.

A one page synopsis shows story needs.

It’s well worthwhile to read his blog series from beginning to end. I’ve highlighted quite a bit. For example:

The crisis is the time when your protagonist must make a decision. And the choice that he makes will determine whether or not he’ll get closer to or further away from his object of desires (both external and internal). Often a particular choice will move a character closer to one object of desire while moving him further away from the other… [Link]

A detailed scene-by-scene spreadsheet helps reveal what’s needed.

A third visual on the Shawn Coyne’s resource page is an example of a more detailed breakdown of story, using Excel.

Scenes on an Excel spreadsheet reveals story needs

I’ve evolved the Excel worksheet concept for my own purposes: I’ve cut columns and added others — what a scene reveals, for example, and another for unanswered questions.

I’ve listed scenes down the left, and themes/sub-plots/plots across the top. This makes it easy for me to see if a thread has been dropped and what needs to be picked up.

I haven’t filled out the worksheet for the entire novel — at least not yet — but it has helped me identify the story needs in the opening scenes, which concerns me the most right now. This process has made me a convert to using Excel for working out a plot.