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— J.R.R. Tolkien
I am a Maggie Stiefvater fan. Starting with The Scorpio Races, I have been blown away by her characters, the structure of her books, and her ability to manipulate reader emotions. Not to mention, the deftness and beauty of her writing. I was happy, therefore, when I took a workshop with super-editor Cheryl Klein last year, to find her referring to a core writing/revision tool and pointing us to an article on Maggie Stiefvater's blog.
Revision: Nothing Is Sacred (Except the Stuff that Is)
That was one of the first homework assignments Cheryl gave us--find the core nugget, the one thing in our books that we would not take out.
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I'm going to share my bookmap template with you. It's a template you complete for every scene in the book.
For full disclosure, my terminology and map is a little different from what Cheryl gave us, but that's because everyone has a unique approach and process. All I can tell you is that this worked for me not only in revision, but also in helping me to plot out two new books since then.
As always, take what works for you, and ignore the rest.
Here's the template:
Chapter XX, Scene Number XX, Pg XX, Location, Date/Day/Time
Relationship to Core:
And here's what all that means and how to fill out the different elements of it.
First and foremost, I keep this information with each scene in my main document, but then I also look at it without the actual text. It's like looking at a roadmap of the book.
Keeping tabs of where chapters start and end not only helps you find information, but helps me identify pacing issues by looking at the pattern of chapter lengths.
Scene Number XX
I number sequentially 1-XX without a reference to the chapter. It helps to know how many scenes I have, and having them numbered in order rather than as a subset of a chapter makes it easy to find or reorder them as needed.
Tracking pages helps me refer to information quickly, but also helps to identify problems with scene length that will impact pacing.
Tracking where the scene takes place helps me make sure the book feels like it's moving and that I'm giving the reader something fresh as a backdrop. It also helps me make sure I've covered my bases about how characters get from one location to another.
This seems self-explanatory, but I need to know how long things are taking in story time and make sure I am taking care of things like holidays, weekends, etc. It's easy to lose track of complications like store/office/services closings, etc. that might make certain actions impossible at the time you think they should be taking place.
The terminology that made sense for me was this: Opening Image/Therefore/But Then/And Also/Closing Image. This is an adaptation of what Cheryl gave us together with some things I added from other sources.
The Opening Image shows the character's state at the beginning of her/his arc. But from the opening image, everything in the story should be causal.
The action in any current scene either follows logically from a decision made or an action taken in the mc's previous scene (Therefore), or the action shows your mc reaction to an unexpected event that came about as the result of action taken by another character or force in play (But Then).
Cheryl warned us against including too many scenes that show a continuation of the same problem /emotion/issue in the previous scene (And Also). She likened that to scenes in Twilight where Bella and Edward reacted to each other with increasing levels of intensity but not much changing plotwise.
The Final Image should show the character at the end of her arc, in a way that lets the reader see how far the character has come.
I use this to track the emotion of the main character and the mood I want the reader to feel when reading the scene. I use a word to identify the overall mood I want, and then jot down examples of words, character actions, and setting details that evoke/will evoke that mood in the scene.
I find it helps to track all the characters in the scene. This makes it easier to consider whether I need them all and what they add.
This is critical. I need to know what every character in the scene wants to achieve in that scene, and I want that to conflict with someone else in the scene. Even if the opposition is minor instead of major, having opposing goals builds tension that keeps readers (hopefully) turning pages.
The options here are simple, and they all pertain to whether or not the main character achieved his/her goal. He/she can experience: Failure (not attaining the goal at all), Success But (having some moderate success but running into something else that comes out of success to complicate the victory and create a new goal or setback), Failure and Furthermore (failing and in addition to failing, having something else happen to make victory even more difficult to achieve), or Success (but success can't happen too often, because success is the antithesis of conflict.)
How does the outcome effect the story--what will we see happen in the next scene or future scenes as a result of the outcome in this scene? What new information does the main character have from this scene and how does that effect her decisions?
Relationship to Core/Consistency with Core:
No matter what else I do, in every scene I need to remember the heart of the story—the core element that I won't take out no matter what. The scene needs to fall in line with that core.
That's it.Again, I use the bookmap as I plan a book and as I go to write or rework a scene. It turns out, I'm a plantster. My own personal writing process is strange, and I do a weird discovery draft that is half synopsis and half scene. I used to laughingly call it an outline, but I think once it gets over 30K words, it's not an outline anymore.
In any case, when I am done with the discovery draft, I take all the book map information and examine it once I am done drafting to help decide on major revisions. As I go into minor revisions, the bookmap is an easy way to keep myself focused on what is important in that scene so I don't accidentally take the scene in a direction that won't work for the rest of the book.
It's a lot of brainwork, I know. And I'm sure it's not for everyone. But if it makes sense to you, I hope you'll find it useful. :)
Do you use a system like this already? Can you think of anything that would be helpful to add to the book map?