Thursday, July 12, 2012

Mapping Your Manuscript

When you've written your manuscript, you're still not done. Even though you may have written "The End" on the final page, it's not. At this point, you have to edit and rewrite. This needs to be done before you send it to an editor to work on.

While you're waiting on the editor to do her magic on your book, you can map your manuscript.

Primarily, this time of Mapping Your Manuscript is not editing. This is the time when you map out the plot, make notes about the characters, track the timeline. You can even list the names of places the characters visit, roads they drive, family members they mention. You're creating what is often called your book bible.

By doing this, you find errors. Most small, but sometimes big ones. Jack goes to see his sister, Lucille, at her home in Toronto. Except, wait a minute. You check your notes and find this notation: Jack's sister, Lucille, died when she seven and was hit by a drunk driver. The governor is bald, but eight chapters later he has shaggy, brown hair. Note that, unless you've written a reveal where we find out his brown hair is a wig.

Look for inconsistencies, passages that need to be reworked, characters that appear or disappear without reason, towns that suddenly have new names. Even if you don't find a single error, you've still created a bible that will be helpful.

But the main focus of Mapping Your Manuscript is to note all those details that later you won't remember and will wish you had written down.

If book one is popular, you may decide to do a book two. Now you have notes to refer to, whether you're working on book two or book ten in the series. You won't have to pull the book off the shelf and start thumbing through it. You'll have your notes. Even better, if you wrote the notes on a document on your computer, you can do a search and find.

Mapping is much easier if you do it with each book. It's harder to do it when you're about to start book four.

Do any of you do this kind of mapping of your books?
Helen Ginger is the author of Angel Sometimes, as well as 3 books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series. You can find two of her short stories in the just released anthology, The Corner CafĂ©. Her free ezine, Doing It Write, now in its thirteenth year of publication, goes out to subscribers around the globe. You can follow Helen on her blog, Straight From Hel, on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn. She is also Co-Partner and Webmistress for Legends In Our Own Minds® and the Coordinator of Story Circle Network’s Editorial Services.
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  1. I should because I really hate searching through my previous two books.

  2. I try to cover the plot points, time, location and secondary characters on my tracking board after I write each scene. But I've been SO bad about creating a Bible for my books. I'm trying to be better about it as I work on Book 2 in my Mapleton Mystery series.

    I really thank the heavens for Word's "find" feature when I'm working on any of my series or connected books. I kept saying I'd do it when I got a multi-book deal so I knew I'd be writing a bunch of connected books, but now that I'm moving more Indie, I need to go back and get all these details right.

    Terry's Place

  3. Another great idea, Ginger. I admit that I don't do that, but probably should, and certainly would be a better person for it. I do reread and reread the ms. for those same reasons. I also find the Word search function very useful for checking on what I wrote in a previous book or an earlier chapter.

    Part of the value of rereading a "finished" ms., with or without mapping, is that it can let you "play reader" and get a sense of the reader's experience. In addition to factual errors and anomalous details, miscues in pacing and order can be discovered.

  4. I agree Larry. There have been times when I finish a manuscript and then go back to read -- and don't even remember writing some of it!

    Terry and Alex, creating the book bible is not easy. Mostly because we're immersed in the writing. But we all, I believe, read our work from start to finish several times. Use one of those times to make notes and create your bible.

  5. Great tips, Helen. I do this all the time but never thought of it as mapping. I learned in the film business to call it checking for continuity. I was often production manager for shooting short films and it was my job to make sure that every detail in the scene was noted so if we shot it again, or continued the scene in a later shoot, all the set, costumes, props, etc matched what we had filmed previously. That has helped me in my writing, and I do have a bible of sorts with notes for my Seasons mystery series.

  6. You call them 'inconsistencies', Helen ... I call them 'tests' ... you know, to see if the reader is paying attention.

  7. Maryann, when you were continuity and I was an extra, you probably noted, "Get rid of the lady on the back row in the courthouse. We do not want to have that frizzy hair in every court scene."

    Christopher, you must have passed every test since your books are clean and A+.

  8. What a great idea, Helen! During my years of editing, I have found numerous inconsistencies that literally jumped out at me -- and a few so subtle that I almost missed them. Needless to say, I've also found some in my own novels. This is excellent advice for all of us.

  9. I'd even go so far as to say if you don't do this, or something similar, you haven't begun to tap the power of your book. You may know all the stuff you'd planned/hoped to put in there, but what about all the stuff your subconscious laid in? The only way to take advantage of that mysterious depth is to go back and see how the whole thing has added up. Good post, Helen.

  10. Helen, well, now that you mention it ... that's because I had a professional editor (marvelous Carol Atkins) ... she didn't let me slide on nothin'.

  11. I've done that, too, Linda. I'll be editing someone's book and stop and say, wait a minute. Then I'll go back through and find the goof.

    That's very true, Kathryn. We often think about putting something or someone in and then forget whether we did or not.

    Christopher, I bet you chose your editor just because she knew how to crack a whip.

  12. I would love to hear some examples of how you mapped a book. Terry's comment mentioned a tracking board -- is that a literal memo/whitboard where you write out a timeline?

    I use Scrivener writing software which has a bunch of cool features I'm still learning to use. I have notes in the margins with dates and character notes, and a whole character profile and research section. I'm very interested to hear a concrete example of of a manuscript map, what that looks like!

  13. I start with a character outline - all of them on one document - and add tidbits to it as I'm writing. In the end, it looks like a mash-up but all the salient points are there.
    Long ago there was a soap opera that had a woman get pregnant and have a baby...whereas 5 years earlier she'd had a hysterectomy. I've never forgotten that flagrant disregard for the previous writer. LOL!

  14. Some writers do an index card for each character. Laura said she does an outline for her characters. This is especially important for characters who might reappear in another book. You can create a timeline for each book so you can be sure things happen in order. If you're creating a physical town, consider creating a map of the town. It not only helps you remember where things are, it gives you a visual of the layout.

    Put it all into a notebook and add to it as you write other books in the series. Remember to label each item with the book and page number, in case you want to go back and check on something.

  15. Great idea. I've done a similar thing, but more of an outline after the fact. Mapping would come in very hand.

  16. Bibles are great ideas when doing something with series potential or even just to check your facts that everything's in order.

  17. I do an as-I-go map so I can use it as a quick reference, but going back through after I'm done, looking for those little 'oops' lines is still pretty much a neccessity.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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