Tuesday, 31 May 2016

How To Storyboard Using Excel #TipsTuesdays 30

Welcome to my blog on this rainy Tuesday (I hope it is nice and sunny where you are :)). I've been talking about Word a lot recently, and today I'm moving my focus to Excel. If you have Word then the likelihood is that you have Excel too, or the equivalent with Open Office.

How to Storyboard Using Excel

Now I know a lot of us use Scrivener which had it's own storyboarding tool, but this is for those of use who don't have a program with that facility. yWriter, which is what I use, does have a storyboard, but it just doesn't work on my PC.

Hence I needed an alternative and I started using Excel. The main advantage I find with using Excel is that I can set it up to any timeline system I like, so if you have 25hrs in your day, that's fine, or you have 8 days in a week, it's not a problem.

I have a basic blank timeline spreadsheet here set up for a 24hr day here: blank_timeline.xlsx Click the filename to download it.

Each hour is divided into four, which is the smallest increment I decided I needed. Across the top are the hours and down the side are days, since days are the most variable item.

From there is it a simple matter of adding in my events. yWriter uses scenes as the smallest unit, so that is what I use on my timeline.

To create a scene I do the following:
  • Highlight the cells that represent when and how long the scene is
  • Using the little paint-bucket tool in the Home Tab of the Ribbon, pick a colour for the scene background (you can devise a colour scheme based on character pov if you like, or significance, or any other indicator).
  • Merge and centre the cells using the option in the Alignment box of the Home Tab.
  • Add a border to the cells using the border option right next to the pain-bucket on the Home Tab.
  • Type in "s" and the number of the scene or the formula to make it the next scene (see end for explanation).

Now comes the really useful bit in Excel, which doesn't work so well in Google sheets, because Google sheets hides comments. To say what the scene is, I use a comment box.
  • Right click on the cell and select "Insert Comment"
  • A comment box will appear - you can then type in whatever info you need, move it and resize it to your heart's content.
  • To format it (i.e. change the background colour, font etc) right click on the hashed border of the box that comes up when it is selected, then choose "format comment". If you right click inside the comment box, it will only offer you the font formatting.

The great thing about Excel is the formatting is so versatile and we can use all sorts of colours and fonts and highlights to show which are major events, which minor, what character is doing what. Anything our imaginations can come up with basically.

The comments are fully movable, so you can rearrange them and move them if parts of the timeline become crowded. You can even make certain parts of the timeline bigger to fit them in.

The Scene Formula

Now if you just hand number all the scenes - if you need to add one in it means you have to renumber all the others - this is nightmarish. Hence it is best to use a formula for each scene number except the first one.

If you are just using numbers and no letters you can use a very simple formula. If your first scene is at A3 then the formula for the next scene is:


However, I want the "s" so I have a more complex formula. It looks like this:


It's already in the blank spreadsheet and the only parts you have to worry about are the two sections highlighted and in bold. These have to be changed to the cell designation of the previous scene. In the example AU is the col and 3 is the row. To copy, paste and edit you do the following:
  1. Click in the cell  for the previous scene. You will see the formula in the formula bar below the ribbon.
  2. Click inside this formula bar and highlight the whole thing.
  3. Click ctrlc to copy or right click and select copy
  4. Click the tick next to box on the formula bar to show you have finished editing (if you don't when you click in the sheet weird things will happen).
  5. Click into you next scene cell,
  6. Paste the code you just copied into the formula bar under the ribbon.
  7. Edit the two highlighted parts to be the cell number from which you copied the forumla, or in the case of number only, edit just the one part.
  8. Click the tick next to the box on the formula bar to show you have finished and the new scene number should pop up in the cell.
Now, if you need to add in a scene you can very easily. For example, say we have s1 (A8) and s2 (A14) and lots of scenes after s2, but now we need a new scene between s1 and s2 at A11:
  1. add a new scene cell at A11
  2. copy the formula from s2 (A14)
  3. paste it in to the new scene cell (A11) - it becomes the new s2
  4. edit the formula in the old s2 (A14) to point at the new s2 (A11)
  5. we now have s1(A8), s2(A11) and s3(A14) and all the other scenes after s3 will update as well.
If you are not using "s" to designate each scene you need to change the "s" in the formula as well. For example if you use chapters and are using "ch" instead of "s" then you would put "ch" in the formula.

It probably looks a bit complex, but with Excel it's mostly a matter of cutting and pasting. If you want to move a scene from one place to another you can simply cut and paste the cell (just remember to update the formulae of the following scene(s) if you are changing the order). It's not as easy as a full fledged storyboarding program, but I find it very useful since I don't currently have one that works.

I would show you a full timeline of mine, but then I would give away the whole plot :)

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask. What do you use to storyboard?


  1. Very neat - I hadn't thought of storyboarding in quite such detail, but as I read the article I could see the advantages at once, particularly if you needed to make sure a character can actually achieve everything they need to in a given tie frame.

    1. That's exactly what I use it for :) I don't tend to storyboard at the beginning, mostly when I need to be sure of the timeline and to remember who I have doing what, when :)

  2. I've been using Excel more and more for my writing. Your detailed technique tips will prove valuable when I move to the next level of info. Thanks Tasha

    1. You're most welcome - I used to use a calendar in Word, but it was too bulky, so I experimented with Excel.

  3. Having been in the finance world for over 20 years, I used Excel all the time. Now I just use it to track my utility usage.

    1. When I was a consultant I used to use Excel to do fancy presentations with lots of figures - very useful skills to carry over, it seems :). What I like about Excel is that if you want to do something, Google can usually tell you how without any difficulty :)


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