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Manuscript Mapping/Scene Interrogation

Lots of authors use index cards to map their plot, create scenes and work out structure or scene placement.

Last week I used a similar exercise to track my novel’s progress using index cards, preparatory to restructuring the manuscript.

First: I wrote up every scene/story break in my novel. I was gobsmacked to find there were one hundred and twenty four scenes. Is that way too many? They seemed appropriate during the writing. But since it sounded so many, I went to my bookcase and checked out lots of books. Some have few story breaks, but to my relief, others had lots and lots too.

The aim of the exercise was threefold.

1. To check for crucial and strong scenes (hoping there’d be lots)
2. To interrogate whether each scene grew the plot and propelled the story forward
3. To enable me to juggle the scenes when I (shortly) experiment with the structure.

I used a system of stickers and stars to denote:

  1. Crucial scene
  2. Strong scene
  3. Rewrite scene
  4. Delete scene
  5. Propels plot
  6. Merge (really short storybreaks) into next/previous scene

I’m now thinking I should add a couple of new coloured stars to track story arcs and conflicts too.

Now on this third draft, every scene is going to have to justify its existence. I plan to recheck if I’ve been over-generous in my assessment or too harsh. (I did get into the playing with the stars and stickers, and want to be sure I didn’t get carried away.) Mostly I’m aiming for a balance that will work for the story. It’s not an action thriller so every scene won’t be action, but I do need to check whether too many scenes are narration/introspection/action/conflict, and if the ratio works.

It was a really interesting exercise in that so many little things emerged to check, rewrite, explain too. It also revealed how I’ve neglected some of my transitions, and though I know how much time has elapsed since the last scene, in places, I’ve forgotten to tell the reader.

That’s the benefit of not looking at the full manuscript for some months. Much jumped out and is clearer now. All in all though, I’m pretty pleased how it’s all coming together.

Next week I’m advancing to cutting and pasting. No, not with clag and scissors – even more fun – with text.

If you have any tips or methods to work out structuring your manuscript or interrogating its individual scenes, I’d love to hear about them.

(PS: If you’re lucky enough to be a Mac user, a fantastic sounding program called Scrivener lets you index your scenes on an online corkboard. Too cool. Can’t wait to check out the PC version – due out next year.)


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