Want to Make Revisions Easier? Create an Editorial Map

The tables are turned on me today. Normally each month I head over to Janice Hardy’s Fiction University (and I will still be there next week), but this month I also have the extremely nice and talented Janice Hardy here to share her knowledge with all of you as part of her blog tour for the release of her new books. The internet can be a funny place when it comes to writing advice. There’s just as much flawed information out there as there is helpful information. The teaching Janice shares is the kind you can trust.

And that’s why I’m so happy to have her here with us today talking about a way we can make our revisions easier. Take it away, Janice!


Want to Make Revisions Easier? Then Create an Editorial Map

This is Janice.

This is Janice.

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Before starting a revision, it helps to create an editorial map. An editorial map (also called an edit map or book map) lets you know exactly how the novel unfolds and where it needs tweaking. It’s also a handy reference tool when you need to check when or how something happens without having to search through the entire manuscript.

Even if you’re a fast drafter and completed a manuscript in a few weeks, odds are you don’t remember everything that happens in every scene. Without a clear understanding of what’s in your novel, it’s harder to know the best way to revise.

Step One: Identify What Happens in Every Scene or Chapter

Determine what happens in each scene, especially the plot-driving goals and conflicts, as these are the elements that create the novel’s plot. You can either list them or just think about them at first (you’ll summarize next). If plot mechanics are a common weak area for your first drafts, I recommend listing the goals and motivations of each scene. It’ll force you to be specific, and the act of writing them down crystallizes your intent, especially if you have trouble articulating what a scene is about or the goals driving it. Ask:

  • What is the point-of-view character trying to do in this scene? (the goal)
  • Why is she trying to do it? (the motivation for that goal)
  • What’s in the way of her doing it? (the conflict and scene obstacle)
  • What happens if she doesn’t do it? (the stakes)
  • What goes wrong (or right)? (how the story moves forward)
  • What important plot or story elements are in the scene? (what you need to remember or what affects future scenes)

Revision Red Flag: If you’re unable to answer any of these questions, that could indicate you’re missing some of the goal-conflict-stakes plot mechanics. Make notes of the problems so you can easily find them later.

Step Two: Summarize What Happens in Every Scene or Chapter

Once you identify the core elements of the scene, summarize what happens—the actual actions and choices made. This will be a huge help in analyzing the novel’s narrative drive and pacing.

Revision Red Flag: If you can’t summarize the action in the scene, that could indicate there’s not enough external character activity. Perhaps this scene has a lot of backstory, description, or infodumps in it. Be wary if there’s a lot of thinking, but no action taken as a result of that thinking. Make notes on ways to add the character’s goal back in, or how to possibly combine the scene with one that’s weak on internal action.

Step Three: Map out the Entire Novel

Go scene by scene and summarize the novel. By the end, you’ll have a solid map of how the novel unfolds and what the critical plot elements are. You’ll easily see where/if a plot thread dead ends or wanders off, or any scenes that lack goals or conflict.

Revision Red Flag: If you discover some chapters or scenes have a lot of information, while others have a line or two, that could indicate scenes that need fleshing out, or are heavy with non-story-driving elements that might need pruning. It could even show places where too much is going on and readers might need a breather. Mark the areas that need work, adding any ideas that might have occurred to you as you wrote your summaries.

Revision Tip: Try highlighting your notes in different colors to denote different elements, such as green for goals, red for tension. That makes it easy to skim over your editorial map and see where and what the weak spots are.

Revision Option: Map Out Any Additional Arcs You Might Want

Aside from the core plot elements, you can also include the pacing of reveals, discovery of clues or secrets, how multiple points of view affect each other, or whatever else you want to track. For example, a mystery might have one paragraph per chapter that covers what the killer is doing, even though that’s never seen in the actual novel.

These additional details can be woven into the scene summary or kept as bullet points or a subparagraph if that’s easier. You might even have two or three paragraphs per scene: One for the plot, one for the character arcs, and one for information you need, but the characters don’t know yet.

This additional information is useful for tracking subplots or inner conflicts, as well as critical clues or what the antagonist is doing off-screen that’s affecting the protagonist. Timelines can also appear here if you need to know when events happen to ensure everything works together and you don’t have any twenty-seven-hour days. Try adding a simple time reminder at the top of every scene, such as: Day One, Morning.

Revision Red Flag: If you discover you have no other arcs, that could indicate there’s not enough happening in your novel. A lack of plot could mean there are too many non-story elements bogging down the novel, such as an overload of description, too much world building, heavy infodumps, or even an excess of internalization.

The beauty of an editorial map is that once the hard work is done and you have it all mapped out, it’s a solid guide to the novel. If you get stuck during revisions you can open it up, see what happens when, clarify where the story needs to go, and get back on track.

Do you create an editorial map for your drafts?

Win a 10-Page Critique From Janice Hardy

Three Books. Three Months. Three Chances to Win.

To celebrate the release of my newest writing books, I’m going on a three-month blog tour–and each month, one lucky winner will receive a 10-page critique from me.

It’s easy to enter. Simply visit leave a comment and enter the drawing via Rafflecopter. At the end of each month, I’ll randomly choose a winner.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

ryn-2x3Looking for tips on revising your novel? Check out my new book Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, a series of self-guided workshops that help you revise your manuscript into a finished novel. Still working on your idea? Then try my just-released Planning Your Novel Workbook. 

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of The Healing Wars trilogy and the Foundations of Fiction series, including Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft and the upcoming Understanding Show, Don’t Tell (And Really Getting It). She’s also the founder of the writing site, Fiction University. For more advice and helpful writing tips, visit her at www.fiction-university.com or @Janice_Hardy.

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*Excerpted from Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft