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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Confessions of a Wannabe Perfectionist ~ Lisa Harris

Lisa Harris is an award-winning author who has sold twenty-one novels and novellas. She lives with her husband and their three children in Mozambique, Africa, where they work as missionaries. When she’s not busy writing or home schooling, she loves traveling, cooking different ethnic foods, and going on game drives through the African bush.

She is currently writing a series set in Africa for Zondervan. Book one, Blood Ransom, releases this month and is a powerful thriller about the modern-day slave trade and those who dare to challenge. It’s been described as emotive, enthralling, and spectacular. You can visit her website and her blog at to find out more about her and her books.

Confessions of a Wannabe Perfectionist

I have to admit, I’m not the most organized person in the world. Details like dusting the top of refrigerator or catching all the dust bunnies beneath my bed are easily forgotten due to the day-to-day demands of life. But while these details tend to easily slip by me, I learned early on that in writing a novel, organization in essential.

This was further brought home for me last year when I co-authored a medical thriller with a friend of mine. I realized that in order to stay on track with the fast-paced storyline, it was essential to find a quick way to keep our tight timeframe and chapter scenes in order.

I know there are dozens of ways to organize your story, but Excel has made it simple for me, and hopefully I can pass some new ideas of staying organized.

When you open up Excel, you’re able to make as many columns as you want. I typically make five columns, but these can be changed and rearranged as needed. Next, I give each column a header. This allows me to keep a running total of my word count, mark with an X when the chapter is finished and placed into my final manuscript, show the timeline, the POV, description of each chapter, and any additional notes.


Chapters / Finished / World Count / Time / Chapter Descriptions and Notes

Below the headers, on horizontal rows, I keep a running list of each chapter that includes the information from the header. I add additional rows to show the date and help me keep track of the timeline. This is especially important if you book takes place over a short period of time and includes several POVs. The highlighting feature can also be used to mark a problem you need to fix later, to leave additional notes, or to spotlight something. If you’d like to see a sample spreadsheet of how I’ve done this, check out the Writing Tips on my website.

This same system can also be used for character descriptions and storyline details. In writing a series containing overlapping characters, it is often necessary to need to know the color of John Doe’s eyes, that he has a black belt in karate, or that his favorite pizza is anchovies and onions (and he has bad breath!). All this information can be kept in an organized reference sheet allowing you quick access in one place.

This quick overview became particularly helpful for me when my editor asked me to take out a character and replace it with another. When I turned in the revised manuscript, I was able to show her, in one glance, the story before and after with all the changes, something she loved.

How do you stay organized? I’d love to hear your thoughts on what works for you!

Blood Ransom

Deep in the heart of Africa, two American lives are about to change forever.

Natalie Sinclair is working to eradicate the diseases decimating whole villages in the Republic of Dhambizao, when she meets Dr. Chad Talcott, a surgeon on sabbatical from a lucrative medical practice now volunteering at a small clinic.

Meanwhile, things are unraveling in Dhambizao. Joseph Komboli returns to his village to discover rebel soldiers abducting his family and friends. Those that were too old or weak to work lay motionless in the African soil. When Chad and Natalie decide to help Joseph expose this modern-day slave trade—and a high-ranking political figure involved in it—disaster nips at their heels.

Where is God in the chaos? Will Chad, Natalie and Joseph win their race against time?

Romance and adventure drive this powerful thriller about the modern-day slave trade and those who dare challenge it.


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