Monday, June 27, 2011

my novel's journey: Discovery: Analyzing the manuscript that doesn't work

Last week, I talked about analyzing the story by mind mapping. This is also a terrific brainstorming tool if you want to plot your story out in general terms without a chronological outline. However, in my case, I had a full manuscript of words--just not all the right words--which was already ordered by time.

So in order to figure out what was wrong with the manuscript itself, I started outlining the text itself.

First thing I did was go back to my mind map and give each character a color. I did this so I could see at a relative glance whether the characters were getting enough facetime and if that time was evenly spread or clumped together. Ideally, we'd be learning a bit about the characters as we went along, according to their importance.

Then I started reading and outlining. Now the outline was very general--the chapter, the main ideas as they applied to the conflicts in the mind map. If a detail was important for later, I sometimes noted it as well. I'd run a colored line through a given statement for each character it affects. So, if Sister Ann says something important about Chris to Andi, that statement gets three colored lines.

While I did this, I was also making my list of major and minor characters and some brief notes on them. I had about a dozen half-lists of my characters. As I went along, I could see where I might start combining people and roles to simplify my cast, which is the biggest I've ever worked with. I also started taking notes on things I needed to insert, delete or change, sometimes by page number; sometimes by "before chapter 16, James must do X."

I also started figuring out where the plot holes were. Sometimes, I knew exactly how to plug them; and I'd write NEED THIS SCENE HERE. When I didn't know, I'd write: NEED SOMETHING TO DO X and jot some ideas down.

Whenever any note affected a specific character, it got a line or a star in that character's color.

In my mind-mapping, I already identified a couple of subplots I don't need, so I deleted them, but I saved the text in the comments section in case I wanted bits of it elsewhere.

I spent about seven hours doing the mind-mapping and outlining the first day, and got to page 103 of 198. I had several scenes imagined though not written down. I got through the rest on the second day--about 12 hours total.

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