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Bookmapping for Plot Revision

In her insightful book The Magic Words, editor Cheryl B. Klein says, “A bookmap, in its simplest form, is a scene-by-scene or chapter-by-chapter outline of a novel…it allows you to see the entire plot in compact form and think through its development scene by scene.”

To a writer, this may sound complex but a bookmap is easier to put together than you may imagine. No matter what you originally intended to write, if done correctly, a bookmap for plot revision will help you to pull apart your manuscript to see clearly what it is that you have actually written. It will also help you to see where your strengths and weaknesses lie and help you to fix plot holes and tighten up your writing before sending your manuscript to be professionally edited.

How do I make a bookmap?

The great thing about this method is that you can apply it to whatever it is you would like to dissect and look at closely, but in this article, we’ll be looking at plot.

First, you’ll need to choose somewhere to draw your map. You can use a whiteboard, a large piece of paper, post-its, colored pens or even the computer and your manuscript. I have chosen one of my graded readers and have assigned different colors to represent the three plot threads in the book. Red is for horror, yellow is for events that keep the story moving forward, green is for back story and character development and lastly, I added blue to show a chapter that ends with a question or a cliff-hanger.  

My book has twelve chapters, so I made a table with two horizontal lines and two vertical lines dividing the paper up into twelve squares; one for each chapter. Go through each chapter and write a short sentence – in the correct color – for each plot thread in the corresponding square.

I’ve made my bookmap, now what?

Once you’ve done this, you’ll find yourself looking at a miniature summary of your book all in one table. What do you notice? Perhaps you can see that there are only three chapters with cliff-hangers. If you’re writing a thriller, this is problematic. Or maybe you’ll notice that there is more character development than actual action events driving your plot forward. Using color will help your brain to sort and understand the ratio of each plot thread in relation to the others.

Now that you have a succinct visual representation of which plot threads are found in each chapter, you can spot plot problems and do something about them. Some chapters may have no driving force, others may show that your subplot disappeared half-way through the book, never to be seen again. As you go through each chapter, make a list of what the problem is and how you can fix it. You may be able to combine chapters, add action events or get rid of too much information that was fun to write about but served no real purpose in your book.

Even if you’re not a visual learner, a bookmap will help you to think of your manuscript as dynamic and changeable, not something set in stone. You can now easily reorganize chapters and revise your draft without feeling overwhelmed.

Happy mapping!

Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Louanne Piccolo