Dashboarding?

ColGray

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At some point, I started dashboarding my writing to track chapter length, character POV, word count, etc. When I moved from writing to editing, i used it to track word count (WC) reduction, splits and overall changes. I just used Excel and some fairly simple formulas and charts, but I found it really, really helpful for a couple reasons.

  1. It helped me keep myself accountable.
    1. I set a goal of 10k words/week and i could track that progress on a daily and weekly basis
    2. I wanted to edit at least 5 chapters a week, and tracked that.
  2. It helped track the meta-narrative -- by which I mean, did the structure work?
    1. Was I favoring one POV over another?
      1. This especially helped with editing because I could then really ask, Do i need this character with only 5% of the narrative POV? Can i roll their bits into something else?
    2. How long were my chapters? What was my avg length? Did it vary by POV character, and should I investigate why?
    3. By section, was I balanced or totally out of whack?
    4. What was my total word count -- first draft ended around 200k words, so, yeah, verbosity is a challenge
    5. How did the narrative shift over time? Was Part 1 mainly following Characters A and B, while Part 4 mainly focused on D and F? And if so, why?
  3. Where was I editing and cutting the most?
    1. Consistently, i was culling 50% of a certain POV. This led to a good bit of, Why, and then, Is there a reason to keep him as a POV character?
    2. Were specific Parts of the book getting cut a lot (and if so, why, etc).

How do others track this stuff? Do you? Does anyone else find this type of stuff helpful?

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I keep track of daily word count and word count per scene and chapter, but not with the fancy charts and everything, just in a couple of simple tables.

I've never bothered having targets for daily/weekly word count, but when I'm in the first draft stage I like being able to tot up exactly what I have done. Where I've found it does help, though, is checking whether chapters have similar figures, and if one is too long or too short, then working out how best to shift scenes around to achieve more consistency while keeping the structure right -- eg perhaps breaking scenes up and splitting them between chapters. Also when I'm editing, which in my case is largely a matter of pruning out material as I write long, I check to see if I'm looking at around the right percentage reduction per chapter to bring me down to a more acceptable overall total, and if not, going over them again but harder.

The only time I've worried about word count per POV is in one WIP where I have 3 main characters, each with POV scenes, but I wanted one character to predominate in word count, as it was principally her story, and not just overall but on a chapter by chapter level. So there it helped me to work out whether the others' scenes needed to be eg split and moved around.
 
I used Excel at work a lot, so adding a graph and a pie chart was pretty easy-- and i found that only seeing the numbers wasn't helpful when it came to seeing the trends, percents, etc.

Initially, i didn't care about WC, but then started hitting totals that were painful and went, I need to be more intentional about this. It was also really helpful to see--like you said--where certain chapters/scenes are too long or i'm meandering in trying to express something.
 
I've never been remotely fussed as a reader about WC consistency between chapters or POVs, and that's carried over into my writing. But I genuinely have no idea whether I as a reader am typical or unusual in that. (WC at a book level is another matter, to some extent, but even then I've only ever made one strenuous effort to cut by more than 10%, and some of that had to be reversed because I'd overtightened a lot of lines so they no longer flowed smoothly.)

The thing is, I don't really see how you can force chapters to be a consistent length without changing the natural feel of what makes a complete chapter. At the very least, you're adding another layer of complication and worry with the only benefit being that someone reading a chapter a night will know exactly when to go to bed so they can turns lights off at ten.

(All my opinion of course, and I'm not exactly talking from a position of "I'm a success, so listen to me!")
 
I only noticed chapter length when i switched over to Kindle/ebooks and i could see the, This chapter will take you X Minutes to read, message. Suddenly i was making choices about, Do i go to bed now, or.... based on that, which made me think about chapter WC.

I'm also the other end of the spectrum. You can see on the top graph, the big, long one, is the by-chapter word count and then a trend line. The average goes from 1500 words to 3000 over the first three quarters and there are some wild jumps and dips in there. My first complete 1st draft was 200k words and it was overstuffed and tried to do too much. I cut it to 165k and then 140k -- and I thought that last 25k cut was going to be impossible until i made a mental switch to thinking of story, not character (the book is multi-POV). It meant i could use the format to my advantage -- cut from POV one to POV two, back to one, to three, to one, etc. I could build tension, build stakes, etc, via POV shift. But it meant i needed to rethink my chapter length and layout and it became an intentional part of editing.

It also gave me a really good target for editing: This chapter is 5000 words. Can i get it to 3000? 2500? If not, why not? Am i doing too much? Am i telling too much? etc.

That said, I don't think i could do that while writing. I know i couldn't. That kind of jigsaw maneuvering (for me) seems to require having all the puzzle pieces present and trying to figure out how to fit them together.
 
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