I don’t have the best sense of direction. I may not plug my GPS in when I run out for a quart of milk, but any farther and I’ve got my eyes glued to that little screen on my dash. But even if you’re the Magellan of manuscripts, there’s nothing like a pictorial representation of your plot to help orient yourself to your story. Take a look at the one I’m using for my work in progress, below. (Or click to download the entire large format PDF.)
My work as a designer gave me access to the InDesign software that created this map, but there’s a simple, cheap alternative you can learn in a snap. Scapple is mind-mapping software from the same geniuses that created Scrivener, and will allow you to create the same kind of colored text boxes I used for the diagram above. (Free 30 day trial, $15 to purchase.)
My mornings start with my Scrivener text outline of my novel on one side of my screen and the story blueprint above on the other. By rearranging the boxes that represent my chapters along the 4 part escalating paths that map my story’s structure, I’m able to see how the changes I make relate to the rising tension I’m trying to orchestrate in each section of my story. I color code the boxes to highlight the principle characters who star in each chapter.
Since my protagonist must grow internally along with my tale’s external action, I’ve written a short synopsis of each stage of his development at the bottom of every section to make sure the events I arrange support the internal evolution I’m after. I go back and forth between my text outline and this picture of my plot. I can’t imagine the kind of myopic mess I’d have if I lost either of these two critical tools for outlining my novel.
That’s my process. I’m sure you have yours. But if you’re not spreading index cards on the kitchen table, doodling in your notebook or pasting butcher block paper to the wall, you may be missing a valuable visual tool for analyzing your work. Try picturing your plot to see what might be missing.