How to Make a Text-Based Book Map

There are lots of ways to build a book map, and once I describe my method, you may think of better ones. Whatever works for you will be the method to use. You can write your book map on paper as J.K. Rowling did, or you can get a little more technical with it.

Remember that the first step in editing is to do a fast read-through. When working on client manuscripts, I often build the book map during the read-though, but sometimes I wait until I’m done. Some manuscripts don’t need a map because all the major pieces are in place, or there are only one or two that need fixing. Other times, I start building the book map at the first sign of trouble. If I come into a project knowing that it will require restructuring, I will build the book map right away.

When I made my first book map, I didn’t realize I was doing that. It was basically a scene list in Excel, with columns for each character and subplot.

My scene list for Hope and Pride.

My scene list (or book map) for Hope and Pride. I don’t chapterize until I’ve finished editing, so it shows scene numbers instead of chapters. The ticks in the columns on the left show which subplots the scene affects.

I first learned the term “book map” from Heidi Fiedler, who teaches book mapping for the Editorial Freelancers Association. Her course Book Mapping for Developmental Editors will be offered again in October. Heidi recommends Excel because you can make the fields as big as you need them to be. For example, where there’s a long scene with a lot going on I can expand the description.

When the timeline for Hope and Pride got too complicated, I copied the scenes onto a calendar.

When the timeline for Hope and Pride got too complicated, I copied the scenes onto a calendar. This book was written before I started using Scrivener.

Calendars make excellent book maps, especially if you have a story where timing is critical. Vertex 42 has an abundance of free Excel templates in calendar form. You can set the date to almost any year, which is handy for historical fiction and science fiction. Not only do the dates update, but the holidays do, also, which helps you ensure, for example, that your characters in 1898 are celebrating Easter in the right month.

Apps that Map

Scrivener has two display options that qualify as book maps. The main view shows the manuscript and all its parts. The sidebar is more an outline than a map, but it’s still a visual representation of the contents.

I don’t normally use Scrivener for client manuscripts, though the one time I did, it was because major structural revisions were needed, and Scrivener’s mapping and editing tools made worlds easier than if I had done the job in Word.

But if you’re already using Scrivener, then congratulations—you have two book maps readily at hand.

The cork board view of my novella “Flight.” The scene list is in the left column, the cards in the middle represent each scene, and the fields on the right can be used to add whatever data you want about each scene.

The cork board view of my novella “Flight.” The scene list is in the left column, the cards in the middle represent each scene, and the fields on the right can be used to add whatever data you want about each scene.

Scrivener’s cork board view replicates that index-cards-on-the-wall method of working that Vince Gilligan described in his description of storybreaking. One of the things that makes Scrivener so powerful is that you can drag the cards around to change the scene order. Of course, you could do this with actual index cards also, if you have a big enough cork board. But then you’d have to edit your manuscript by hand.

Flight outline view

Outline view of “Flight.” Columns can be customized to show the data you want to see.

Scrivener’s misnamed outline view is far more powerful than an ordinary linear outline, because you can edit the columns to include whatever information you want to include, such as timelines or subplots. This is very similar to the Excel map, except that if you drag your scenes in the cork board view or in the sidebar to change the order, the Scrivener outline automatically updates accordingly.

Yes, I am a mad fan of Scrivener. I use it for all of my long-form writing.

Hiveword

If you don’t want to shell out bucks for Scrivener and face its massive learning curve, try Hiveword. This web-based app offers similar features: a scene sorter that uses boxes like index cards to help you arrange your scenes, and a scene list that gives information about each scene. It’s not powerful as Scrivener, but it gets the job done. The free version includes most of the features you need, but there’s a paid version that includes some upgrades.

Next time, we’ll look at mapping options that are graphical rather than text-based.

About Kristen Stieffel

Kristen Stieffel is a writer and freelance editor specializing in speculative fiction. She's a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Christian Editor Connection, and American Christian Fiction Writers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *