Tuesday, March 11, 2014

TUESDAY TIPS: Mapping Your Novel

MOST WORKING NOVELISTS agree that, if you want to produce a quality book in limited time, a good way to do that is to map the book out in advance.
   There are a variety of ways of doing that. Some people write scenes on index cards and rearrange and add to them until they have a good plan to follow for their book. Many novelists that I know (all great writers and prolific people) swear by Scrivener 2, from Literature and Latte, which, among other things, allows you to conduct the index-card routine virtually.
Created by connecting the dots
   Several years ago, I produced my 2008 novel, Wind River, using not this strategy, but a variation on it.
   Rather than using index cards, I first spent a little under two months creating a list of bullet points: one scene per bullet. As I worked and saw the need for additional intermediate scenes, I plugged them in. When I saw that I was writing the book in a manner that started it twice (an extremely common mistake for novelists of all skill levels), I was able to nuke the extraneous one without wasting time by writing it first. 
   I could plot out a storyline for each principal character and then interleave those individual stories so they'd complement one another and be easy to follow. I could think about each scene from the distance of this pre-writing stage and consider whether the action really consisted of one scene or several; if writing it was going to require a shift in point of view, or implied point of view, or moving to a new place, then I knew I had to break it up into several scenes.
   I could also consider each scene as I planned the book this way. Not many screenwriting techniques transfer seamlessly to the creation of a novel, but one that does is, "Enter each scene as late as you can, and leave it as soon as you can."
   Novelist Brad Whittington refers to this as "cutting off the heads and the tails," and it helps create a fast-moving novel: the kind of book you find yourself polishing off at two in the morning.
   I could tighten the book easily by working on my bulleted outline. I wasn't in danger of writing myself into a corner because I could easily foresee potential pitfalls and restructure to avoid them. 
   By the time I was completely satisfied with my several dozen pages of bulleted scenes, I was what I believe every novelist should be ... I was an expert on my story, familiar with what was happening at every stage of it, and completely aware of how it was going to end.
   Then, once I began writing, I could concentrate solely on language, on visual detail, and the voice of my implied narrator. 
   To me, a significant advantage of mapping the book in this fashion is that I could do it in any medium that would accept bullet points. I could do it on my AlphaSmart Neo. I could even do it on my phone. And eventually it all wound up in a Word document on my laptop. 
   I wrote the novel in the same document, using the technique of reading the uppermost bullet, writing that scene, then deleting that bullet and moving on to the next. 
   It was sort of like "E.T." in the old movie of the same name, following the trail of Reese's Pieces and eating them as he went. As I recall it, my total time invested, from the moment I started setting down bullet points until the day my revised draft was completed, was around eight-and-a-half months: about half the time it usually takes me to write a polished novel.
   So ... are you thinking of starting a book during NaNoWriMo this year? Now is not too early to start. You can begin bullet-mapping your book now and become an expert in your story, so you can sit down at the keyboard with complete confidence on November first.
   And the best part is that you probably own all the tools to do that, because they are the same tools you are going to use to write your book.

No comments:

Post a Comment