Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Toolbox: Chapter Chart

Still crunching around here. Two weeks left in the semester, so that means final projects are almost due (60% of my grade! Yikes!). Budget dealings. New projects, which always come in only when there are already piles. BUT I finally managed to finish my read-through of GG, and am at last on to my first major revision step: the Chapter Chart.

The Chapter Chart is my own version of Diana Peterfreund's Plot Board. I'm very visual AND analytical (after the fact), so I was drawn to her method immediately...I just didn't have that much room. So instead of a big board I use a tabloid sheet of paper, and instead of post-its I use a big pile o' highlighters. Other than that, it works pretty much the same.

My method:

1. AFTER the first draft is written, I do a read-through. Then I identify major plotlines/threads that I want to track, and assign each one a color. For instance, this book has 7 threads I want to look at (at least at this stage--I could get more into detail, but I think this will work for now). For GG, most of these threads are the relationship with a particular person (Mom, DR, Tony), but not all.

2. I divide my paper up into columns, one for each chapter, and label the columns "Ch 1" etc. This book, first draft, has 21 chapters.

3. In each column I write the basic action that happens in each scene. Under each scene description I mark the colors of the threads involved/progressed in that scene. For this book I also write how many pages each chapter was.

What does this do for me? It gives me a visual look, in one swoop, at how the threads are carried through the book. I can see easily if I dropped a relationship or thread for too long, or introduced something too late. It helps me organize all the threads in my head, and intertwine them better. It helps me judge the balance, the pacing, and where I just dropped the ball (cut!). Most important of all, it gives me, at the start of revisions, a good sense of the whole book and how it works together.

I write by the seat of my pants, with no idea where I'm going. But once I'm there, it's time for active craft to take over. :)


Sara said...

Interesting method! I used an Excel spreadsheet in a similar manner for Moon, where I also tracked the information flow in each thread (i.e. where questions where raised and where they were partially or completely answered).

I'm the same as you, i.e. I write the first draft seat-of-my-pants, but at revision time I'm super analytical. (The thing that taught me most about how to revise a novel is what I know about software engineering. *g*)

/Sara E.

Amy Dupire said...

Hi Susan,
Oh, excellent. I might try this on the next book. Thanks for sharing.

Susan Adrian said...

Sara: I thought about Excel, but there's something about actually writing it down in pencil, and adding highlighter colors my ownself, that helps me think. {shrug}

Amy: It's not critical, but it is a useful step!

Jenny Graman Meyer said...

This is just the sort of thing that would appeal to me! The visual layout seems like it would help! And your board is soo pretty!

Sara said...


Yeah, I know what you mean--I like this a lot about index cards. The only problem with the information-flow-and-plot threads-tracking was that in no way could my whole novel have fit on one paper (unless it was waaay too big to be useful on the train, which is still where I write). The longest draft was 160 K...

/Sara E.

Kelly Gay said...

Great idea. I usually work from some sort of outline, but I like this system. I think it might help me to plot the next two books in my series.

Susan Adrian said...

Jenny: Visual is very useful to me. (and the colors do need to be pretty too. I am SO into colors. {g})

Kelly: Yay! I love that we all expand each other's toolboxes.