Book Mapping: A New Way to Look at Your Manuscript

This past weekend, Andrew and the kids went away to Gee Ma and G-Pa’s house for a visit.  Due to a previous commitment and while still trying to get over the strep throat/virus/cold that’s been circulating through our household since early February, I opted to stay home.

Resolute to make something out of the 28 hours of solitude, I turned to my near-finished manuscript:  A Heroic Survival, An Abysmal Truth:  The Story of Dallon Whittaker. With the intent to look at my work in a fresh way, I decided to map out the book in outline form, complete with color-coded highlights.  Creating a key at the edge of the page, I identified the prominent and undercurrent themes woven throughout the story and assigned each a color.  After four hours of pouring over the manuscript, this is what I’d come up with:



Satisfied that I’d peppered the various themes fairly evenly throughout the book, having compiled a couple chapters that were too short on their own, and tweaked a couple conversations between characters just so, I was satisfied with my work.

At some point, while writing a book, you come to hate your work.  As a writer, you become tired of interacting with the same old characters (even if you deeply adore them all at the same time) and re-writing the same old scenes over and over again.  So, to come up with a new way to look at your work can be incredibly fruitful and provide a little perspective.  It can help you to return to a point of appreciating…maybe even liking your work, once again.

By the time my family returned home Sunday evening, I had rewritten (once again!) my literary agent query letter and, I think, totally nailed it.  I had revisited the same dog-eared pages in my 2007 Guide to Literary Agents book that I’ve pawed through numerous times over the past two years.  I had generated a short list of agents who, according to the information contained in the above-mentioned book, would be the best fit for this most recent piece of work.  And now the task at hand:  start sending out those queries!

If you are a writer happening upon this post, how do you take a fresh look at your work?  What final steps do you take to ensure you’ve got your manuscript dialed and ready to send out?  What sort of final oomph do you give yourself to get that piece of work out the door?



Filed under Writing and Publishing

2 responses to “Book Mapping: A New Way to Look at Your Manuscript

  1. After I finished the first draft of my novel I had a very tough time seeing the book as a whole. It was the biggest manuscript I’d ever written and I was completely overwhelmed. I’m a visual learner, so I came up with a way for me to “see” the book.

    I took a big sheet of paper and drew a horizontal line through the middle. Then I did four vertical lines, one for each quarter of the book. Lastly I made slash marks along the middle line representing my chapters and where they each fell into the four quarters. Within ten minutes I could see the whole book and all its problems- I had a map. The third quarter was too light, the first half too heavy and I had no real black moment.

    When I sat down for the big revision at my residency last year, I used my map and created a new one, to make sure I kept things balanced.

    I’m looking forward to starting with a map like this for the next book, it will make my life easier. I agree, you do end up hating your work at times. I really enjoy seeing other writer’s processes, it’s so interesting, but seems to always include a paper filled table!

  2. Dawn,

    I like the method you describe in your comment. I have also tried something like that…especially when just starting a piece of work and trying to figure out the narrative arc and the “emotional arc” of the story. Somehow, I end up with a chart that looks like an algebra problem (trigonometry? what category of math includes signs and co-signs, again?) but the visualization of a manuscript is key.

    Thanks for your addition to this post, Dawn.

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