A Practical Guide to Book Mapping


Editing a book is hard. So is keeping the big picture in mind, but it's a lot easier if you have a bird's eye view. Recently, I started editing a novel and found I needed a way to keep track of the novel's big picture. I've done this in the past with notecards on a cork board, but I needed something editable that wouldn't take rearranging eighty notecards or lengths of string to move things around. Anything I couldn't access from Panera was not an option, and if it was too complicated of a system, I know I wouldn't keep up with it.

Between sessions of Camp Nanowrimo, my amazing cabin mates and I began discussing Developmental Editing and the lovely Angela Myron turned me on to the book mapping technique. She shared JK Rowlings infamous hand drawn book map with the group. I'm sure every Potterhead and writer alike has seen it floating around on the internet, but the idea intrigued me.

I did some Google searching and found a few articles from writers who use book maps to help them through the editing process, but everyone seemed to have a different way of doing it. There doesn't seem to be a wrong way so long as your chart gives you a look at the information YOU want to look at.

Next I'll show you the chart I built for my own purposes and why I built it that way. Feel free to take this method and make it your own. It has been a great help in getting a birds eye view of my novel, and it might work well for yours too if it's something you need during editing.

book map chart
book map chart 2

And there it is! In all its color coded glory (click the photos to enlarge)! So here's the lowdown:

Column A is the scene code. The first number is the act, the second number is the chapter number, and the third number (if necessary) is for if I need to break down the chapter into individual scenes. For example, chapter eight has two separate scenes. It's located in act two so it is given the code 2.8.1. and 2.8.2. and you can bet your bottom I've put this code at the start of each scene in my draft for easy searching in what is a 300+ page manuscript.

Column B is the date the scene takes place. I'm notorious for forgetting how long time has passed between scenes. This is a huge lifesaver as it makes you check for continuity in dates, times, weather, class schedule*, etc. at the start of every scene you edit.

*(Yes I did write out the class schedule for my fairy godmothers in training, and it's a block schedule so it changes depending on the day of the week.)

Column C is the slug line. This is a screenwriting term for a sentence that's included at the start of every scene in a screenplay which typically includes the time of day and location of the scene. A screenplay will also include whether the scene is inside or outside, but to me this seemed self explanatory from where the scene is set.

Column D is the goals of the protagonist for the scene. Before I started writing the novel, I wrote a character arc for Zelda using the 8 point character arc structure (found here). This column is where I keep track of that, as well as her reactions and actions as she gets involved with the subplots. The boxes are color coded so I can quickly see which main plot or subplot the scene is focused on.

Columns F and onward are the goals of secondary characters (i.e. Imogen and Specs) and plotlines for the subplots of the novel (i.e. Zelda's Magic Struggles). I'll make note in these columns what a character does in the scene or if they are just mentioned. This a great way to see how long it's been since you mentioned a character or a subplot. As you can see in column G, I haven't mentioned Specs in a while and I don't want the reader to forget about him, so I'll probably add him into chapter five where it makes sense for him to be in the scene.

As you can probably see from the silly nature of some of my comments in the spreadsheet, this doesn't have to be formal, but it should let you see what the goal is in every scene and it should keep you from losing plotlines and characters in the shuffle and chaos of drafting. That's it. If you have any questions, sound off in the comments.

Happy editing!