Using a Book Map to Edit a Novel

Last time we looked at how book maps can help in nonfiction editing. Now let’s look at how this technique can help novelists.

As I worked on how to illustrate this, I found myself redacting so much information from so many client book maps, that you would get more out of this exercise if I just created a fictitious book map that illustrates multiple problems at once. All of these represent real problems I’ve seen in unpublished manuscripts, but this way I don’t run the risk of violating client confidentiality, and you get all the illustrations in one place.

Sample Book Map

Listing the chapter titles on the map illustrates a problem I see occasionally—an author giving chapter titles to most chapters but missing a couple. While reading the manuscript this could be easy to miss. Writing the chapter titles on your book map forces you to look twice at each one.

Nonfiction writers use epigraphs (introductory quotations) more often than novelists do, but I have seen them in novels. In one case, the author had placed the same epigraph at the top of two different chapters, so I recommended changing one of them. Another chapter had no epigraph at all.

Sample epigraphs courtesy of the LitQuotes Random Quote generator.

In one novel I edited, most chapters concluded with a diary entry. But some of the chapters lacked this feature. For consistency, every chapter needed a diary entry. The book map clearly showed the author which chapters broke the pattern, and also showed when the entries were out of order.

Mind the Gaps

The first installment of this series, Use Book Mapping to Examine Structure,” included J.K. Rowling’s book map for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which includes columns for various aspects of the story, including Harry’s relationships with Cho and Ginny, the Order, and a subplot featuring Hagrid and Grawp. That chart shows that she doesn’t let any one subplot go for long without attention, and some chapters touch on every one.

Conversely, a book map can show the gaps when too much attention is being paid to one subplot at the expense of others. When you depart from your hero or heroine for more than a few chapters at a time, you have to ask who’s story you’re really trying to tell. Secondary characters can take over a story if you let them. Return to your main characters frequently to keep the readers focused on the principal characters.

Sometimes the subplot needs to be cut down or even cut out. Other times it means the main plot needs to be beefed up. Every situation is unique, but the book map will help you look at the scenes in a condensed space so you can consider your options.

Download a sample spreadsheet book map.

Reading the manuscript straight through, you could miss these things. Taking the time to chart them on a book map, no matter what mapping format you choose, makes the elements of your novel easy to view so discrepancies become more noticeable. A book map might also reveal when a climax comes too early, or when a scene repeats something that’s already been shown.

Next time, we’ll return to the concept of storybreaking and see how it can be used to fill in those gaps.

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