Rewrite Chronicles VI - Mapping Your Manuscript (Part One)
If you follow me on Twitter, you'll have noticed that I've been posting pictures of my heavily tabbed manuscript. It's soooooo pretty! But there is a purpose to my madness. I haven't just stuck these things in for the sake of it. Each colour represents something different. Some reflect developing character relationships, others allow me to track recurring imagery, and others are there so I can see the set-up/reminder/payoff of various key events. That was the one thing I really wanted to get to grips with. I wanted to make sure everything that happens had a good grounding.
If you want a really good rundown on how set-up/payoff can work, check out this part of a video on editing films. It explains how foreshadowing and planting should work, and how Suicide Squad gets it really, really wrong. Spoilers for that film, obviously, but does anyone really care? It's the best example I've found of this kind of structuring to a story, and it works for books just the same as it works for films. There's a really solid follow up video that's less spoilery here.
I've never tracked a manuscript before like this. I got the idea from the way I track my childcare students' portfolios. I adapted that system to suit my manuscript, and figured if you, like me, have engaged in a massive rewrite and need to get a really good overview of the story, this is how you can do it. I always felt I couldn't get a good enough overview of the structure of my book. This system gives me that. It's definitely not for nitty gritty line edits. I'm nowhere near that stage at the moment. This system is specifically for big picture and structural work.
A couple of things to point out:
1) When you track set-up/reminder/payoff, be sure to number them accordingly and keep an index of what each tab relates to. It's a great way to see if you pay off everything you set up, and if you don't, you can either delete the set-up or ensure you pay it off. So I used 1A, 1B, 1C to track set-up/reminder/payoff, then increased the number for each new plot development I needed to follow through the whole book. As you can probably see in the photo, I have a lot of things I've set up. Some of them definitely need to go. I don't want to bloat the manuscript with too many ideas.
Alas, I cannot show you my index card as it's full of spoilers...
2) Do keep track of imagery you repeat. Chances are it ties into a theme present in your novel. For example, I use quite a lot of water imagery because of events in the story. I have to admit, this idea I've stolen from my A-Level English copy of The Woman in Black. Miss Dent, if you ever find this blog, I need you to know I'm as grateful to you today as I was when you were my teacher.
3) I wanted to keep track of the interaction my main character has with others as it shows me when characters suddenly 'fall off' the book. I had a couple who disappeared for a long, long time. You'd this this would be an example of KILL. YOUR. DARLINGS, but these characters are essential. When I go through my next edit, I'll have to correct that. Thanks to the coloured tabs, I can see exactly when a character disappears and returns... assuming they do return.
The end of this manuscript needs a lot of work.
I've also done my usual kind of big picture edit and left a number of notes to myself for areas I need to work on. I've colour-coded those, too. Green for better descriptions of my character's emotions, orange for increasing the suspense. A lot of what I'm working on came from the conversation I had with my wonderful Golden Egg Academy editor the other weekend. Honestly, I cannot express enough how amazing the Foundation Year has been so far. I've made massive leaps in my writing in the first term. It's well worth looking into if you write for children and teens.
Why is this post a Part One? Well, I intend to transfer this structural data into a spreadsheet after the next big edit. Fingers crossed I'll get lots done during the Easter break from college. As soon as the spreadsheet is done, I'll add Part Two of Mapping Your Manuscript!