Process in Progress #4 – The “Promises Tally” Run


It’s been a crazy week for me writing-wise.

The last time I talked about my outlining process specifically, I explained that I had a hyper detailed system for laying out my stories before writing them.

This post is about how I tweaked that outlining system this week. And how it was super satisfying.

If you’re new here, yes, I am a writer. But also, I am the most bureaucratic writer that exists. Seriously, from what I’ve seen (and I’m just realizing it as I write this—holy shit), I weirdly break my stories down into data–on clean, literal spreadsheets–more than any other writer I know. I seriously use Excel.

But whatever–the point is, today, we’re talking about how I decided to do a “Promises Tally” editing run on my outline. And how that is going super well.

Because My Original Outlining Approach Was Too Much

If you remember “Process in Progress #1,” I detailed the actual outline I use, with pictures, explaining how it works and focuses heavily on a part of the novel writing process I didn’t take into account before–promises.

In that post, I also made a quick point about how the Promises Outline was pared down, because when I first devised it, I also color-coded each and underlined parts of every beat that met the promise (which I rightly stopped doing because that was too much, even for me.)

Whelp, here I am admitting that assigning promises to every beat while I was writing those beats, was also too much. That approach just destroyed my flow.

So I stopped noting promises for each beat as I wrote, just like I’d stopped color-coding and underlining significant parts of each beat.

But the key phrase there is, “as I wrote.” The idea was always to go back and fill in the promises above each part of my outline, but I would only do that after writing the majority of it first (so more of a review process that I could use to fix an easily tweakable story skeleton).

Well, this week, after having 97% of the outline finished (basically everything but the finale), I went back for that run, intending to add all of the story’s promises to each beat, hoping it would be easy.

And I discovered that not only was it easy–it was massively gratifying.

And it turned into an amazing, data-generating QA pass.

The Promises Tally Run

I’m a big sarcasm guy, but I am not being sarcastic about this.

Maybe it’s because assigning promises while writing was such a slog, but doing it as part of my final edit before writing prose was fast and weirdly satisfying.

Such that I thought, “Wait. I can get more data from this.”

And thus was born the Promises Tally Run.

Essentially (and it feels like I’m being the most opaque rollercoaster admitting this but) . . . . I decided to color-code my promises. And tally them.

I don’t know why WordPress crushes these images so hard, even at their preferred resolution, but if you’d like to read a slightly more legible version of this screenshot, click on the image and it will open in a new tab. Also, my apologies.

I know. Just hear me out.

This color-coding is really just a way to make this outline a heat map. At a glance, I can tell that a beat, scene, or chapter heavily focuses on a particular character or certain aspects of the plot.

And the tally makes that effort practical for me as a writer. The goal of this run was, as mentioned, to manage my arcs, which I’ve tied to promises—at least for this novel. A tally of ‘promises advanced’ by the end of each chapter makes it unavoidably clear how much I’ve advanced each promise and arc per chapter. And an additional “MS Total” tally makes it clear what progress I’ve made with them in the outline overall.

Again, click the image if you’d like to see a larger, slightly less garbage version.

I know that this looks like a bit much–and trust me, this is not one of those times where I’m suggesting you try this out yourself. What I will say, however, is that it’s yielded interesting data that’s already made me consider how to write future projects.

For example, Memory has a solid spread between the progression of its main characters’ arcs, which is awesome. I’ve done some smoothing on those numbers, of course, but regardless, I’m very excited, because it confirmed that, yes, the pace-crushing dream sequences I was going to put in were as unnecessary as they felt.

Also, the final arcs for the protagonist intertwine in ways I didn’t realize until I had to choose which arcs were advanced by certain scenes.

Also, Memory has a lot of action, which is fine—it is an Action Adventure Fantasy novel. But I definitely want to bring that tally down in my next projects. And probably make separate tallies for things like “Action,” “Drama,” and “Intrigue,” so I can tell which specific avenue is lacking in the subgenre I’m trying to write.

At this point, I’m up to Chapter 10 of this run because I’m taking my time with it (not rushing for this one aspect of my process at the very least), but I’m definitely going to be outlining the end of the novel by next weekend, and moving onto prose shortly after.

If I can combine the speedy approach to prose from my NaNoWriMo runs with this process, streamlining as I go . . .

. . . then I think I can actually become a novelist.

But I’m not going to jinx that.

I’m just going to post this.

And get back to my outline.

Wish me luck.


My name is Louis Santiago and I’m in a hurry, so no crazy closing remarks this time.

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That said, take are, stay safe, and stay cool—it’s pretty hot in New York already and Summer hasn’t even started. Hooray.

Drink water!