I’m reading Second Sight : An Editor's Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults by editor Cheryl Klein. I bought it to gain insights into writing for children and young adults, but this book has great value for every writer. I highly recommend it, and I’ll be doing a storyteller’s review after I’ve finished it. But why not share an insight now?
A tip for both plotters and pantsers
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a “pantser” writer, also called “organic” or “intuitive,” who writes by the seat of his pants. I’m working on a book proposal for Writer’s Digest on a book about novel writing for pantsers—there are plenty of advice books for people who work things out in advance, but not much for we pantsers. And Cheryl expanded on something I’ve done as a pantser that can help all novelists.
Aside: I’m excited about how the book proposal is coming because bestselling author Tess Gerritsen and top literary agent Donald Maass have agreed to contribute to the book.
Back to the tip
When I was pantsing my way through my first novel, about a third of the way through I realized that I had lost track of exactly what had happened to whom, and whether or not the appearances of my point-of-view characters was balanced. So I went back and constructed a chapter-by-chapter summary of the events in each chapter—which characters appeared and what happened. After I started the chart (a chart done in Word, though Excel would do, too), I maintained it as chapters were written.
Little did I know it, but I was creating what Cheryl calls a “bookmap.” For her, though, it is a post-draft tool, and a useful one, that she uses when editing her authors for publication. Here’s how she describes a bookmap:
Go through your book chapter by chapter and write out a on-line to one-paragraph summary of each chapter’s events. Try to include the key plot information that appears in each chapter—for instance, if the antagonist reveals an important clue to the protagonist, then both that fact and what the protagonist learns should be listed. What this lets you see is the overall development of your story, separate from the language in which it is told. Then you can ask yourself:
Then she makes the points below, but I wanted to interject that creating a bookmap doesn’t have to wait until the manuscript is finished. If you accrue it as you go along, you might become aware of an unsightly divergence or lack in your story’s development in time to make adjustments sooner rather than later. Cheryl’s list of questions that your bookmap can help answer:
- Do the plot events follow each other in a logical physical and emotional order?
- Is all the information there? Is it where it needs to be?
- Do any thoughts or events repeat themselves?
- Where are the turning points of the action, where everything changes?
- What is your main character doing all this time? Is it significant action or mostly talk?
- Look at each plotline or subplot individually. How does each one develop? Do some plots disappear for a long time?
I’ll expand on this technique in the book for pantsers, and will ask Cheryl if I can include this.
I find I’m acquiring new insights into the storytelling process from Cheryl’s book. It’s a fun read, too—her voice is friendly and personal, and she seems to anticipate the questions that writers have and answer them with both theory and, thank goodness, examples that teach.
As I said, Second Sight : An Editor's Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults is highly recommended. As is the bookmap technique.
For what it’s worth.
Submitting to the Flogometer:
Email the following in an attachment (.doc, .docx, or .rtf preferred):
- your title
- your 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
- Please format with double spacing, 12-point font Times New Roman font, 1-inch margins.
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- If you rewrite while you wait you turn, it’s okay with me to update the submission.
© 2011 Ray Rhamey