Friday, November 1, 2013

Revision Technique: Book Mapping by Caroline Starr Rose

In 2009, I attended Darcy Pattison's Novel Revision Retreat. One of the many things she encouraged us to do while working with our manuscript was to check for "emotional zig-zags" within our first hundred lines. This technique Darcy developed after having a manuscript rejected for characters who felt "too flat". She determined she'd change her manuscript so that each description carried emotional weight and used Libba Bray's A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY as a way to teach herself how to accomplish this (go read the first chapter if you haven't before. It's wonderfully done).
I was working on another manuscript at the time but came home to MAY B., the book I'd recently finished and had just sent out to agents. I decided I should look for the emotional changes within MAY and set up a chart, poem by poem, marking the topic and emotion in each. Unbeknownst to me, it was my first book map.
I first learned the term "book mapping" write reading Scholastic editor Cheryl Klein's book, SECOND SIGHT: AN EDITOR'S TALKS OF WRITING, REVISING AND PUBLISHING BOOKS FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG ADULTSA book map is simply a quick way to get an overview of an entire book, scene by scene. It can be plugged into an elaborate chart, showing things like point of view, setting, conflict, character growth, and "emotional zig-zags", as Darcy would say, or can be a simple list with a few words meant to remind an author (or editor) of various points along a story's path.
Cheryl asks each of her authors to create a book map of current manuscripts, and she does the same while editing their work. This helps them both see where the book moves effortlessly from scene to scene -- and the areas that need overhauling. She has a fabulous podcast about this process and other editing techniques here.

BLUE BIRDS is the only manuscript I've ever mapped in its entirety. I've jotted poem topics in a notebook; made a more formal written record of setting (both location and time), sub plots, and POV narration; typed a fancy spreadsheet version; and hastily mapped a couple dozen poems where things weren't unfolding as I'd hoped.
Like Darcy's lesson in the richness emotional complexity can bring a text, a book map can teach a writer to see what's truly happening in a book, whether they're aware of it or not. My first map showed me BLUE BIRDS, narrated by characters Alis and Kimi, leaned too heavily on Alis's point of view. The spreadsheet version I created a week before receiving my first editorial letter was a way for me to reintroduce myself to the book (I hadn't looked at it from the time it sold in April until that week in July) and spot weak areas in character development. The most recent mini map (in the last picture above) helped me through a rough portion when many story strands were coming together. I was able to see how things currently stood and where I needed to change things -- either moving poems to new places, cutting them entirely, or adding something new.

I'll confess I don't really refer to the book map once it's created, as some authors must do. It's the process itself that helps cement the book in my mind. I firmly believe the best way to find the "answers" your story needs is to go back to the story and dig them out. I promise the seed of what you need is already there. Book mapping has been an invaluable tool to examine BLUE BIRDS in a new way.

Here are some other blog posts about authors who have also used this technique:
Mapping Your Book to Ensure it Works :: Adventures in YA and Children's Publishing

What are some revision techniques you find helpful?

13 comments:

Victoria Coe said...

Thanks, Caroline! Love book mapping. Also love to create a fantasy book map (AKA "when I close my eyes, this is the book I see"). Helps to realize what the story can become & map out a revision.

Caroline Starr Rose said...

Excellent idea!

Marissa Burt said...

This is super timely! I'm write in the middle of a big revision and I'm going to try this out!

Thanks, C!

M

Caroline Starr Rose said...

You're welcome! The thing that helps me most with this technique is the chance to re-learn the story while seeing it as a big-picture whole.

Raewyn said...

Love the idea of book maps! I usually find it helps to make a smiliar list of plot points and then go through the manuscript with a fine-tooth comb again and again.

So grateful for your kind comment on my blog! It truly blessed me.

Caroline Starr Rose said...

Yes! For me, it is so much easier to work with something already there than starting from scratch. Plot point lists are very helpful.

And your photos were easy to praise. :)

Michael G-G said...

Both Darcy Pattison and Cheryl Klein are heroes of mine. I would love to go to a retreat and learn to be more organized. Thanks for the inspiration.

eden unger bowditch said...

This rings so true, Caroline! As I head into Book 3 of the trilogy, I am mapping out all the clues and leads and histories that need to be revealed, step by step. It is SOooOoo important not to drop the ball anywhere in the story. Thanks for reminding us!!!!

Matthew MacNish said...

I may have to give this a try!

Caroline Starr Rose said...

They're both incredible. I'm running a review of Darcy's latest book in December... :)

Caroline Starr Rose said...

Tell us how it goes (as in a post and pictures, please. :)

Chris Eboch said...

I discuss a similar method in my Advanced Plotting book, one I use for both outlines and at the revision stage. There are many ways to analyze your plot; the most important thing is that you do it!

Caroline Starr Rose said...

I'm looking forward to opening your book after I finish dashing out this very loose, very exploratory new draft.