Mapping it out

The past four days I’ve been up to my elbows in planning the MIP (Manuscript In Progress, or sometimes, Mess In Progress).  I have about five chapters written, and three file folders full of notes assembled on place, character, plot, themes, images and last week, I hit that spot that means it’s time to get the whole thing planned.  Armed with collage, file folders full Postitsof notes, and post it notes and giant sheets of sticky paper, that’s what I’ve been working on. 

This is what it looks like this morning:   

It starts with a collage (to the far left in this photo, and see below), then moves to actual pages, so I can get a feeling for tone and the protaganist and the style of the language for this particular MIP.

Then I like to make a big map of scenes and action, which is where the big sheets of paper comes in, and all those colored flags.  At this point, the book is a big, loud, tumble of scenes, characters, ideas, symbols, themes, possibilities, and I need to get some of them pinned down, but I dont’ want to be too boxed in, so I write scene possibilities, one per post it, and stick them on a piece of paper hurry scurry. This is a long book, and the longer they get, the harder it is to hold it all in my head, so I use these tricks to help me keep an eye on the bigger picture.

I like having lots of different colors to work with.  Yesterday, I had to make a special trip to Kings Soopers (the closest store) to buy extra post its in various colors because all I had left was pale pink ones.  As you see, that has changed.


A book is equal parts right and left brain. The whole thing starts with a collage.  Sometimes they’re very simple and even very small, but some are very elaborate things.  For Lady Luck’s Map of Vegas, I made a three-D collage in a hat box, complete with tubing lights.  For Madame Mirabou, it was very simple. This one has been growing for a year and is fairly intense.  It’s completely right brain activity–I don’t direct, I just follow whatever images show up and let them show me what’s emerging. 

Although there are writers who would disagree, the actual writing of pages for me is also a very right brain activity.  I don’t know where they come from.  I’m often a little surprised to discover what has been written or where I end up on a given day, and in my opinion, that’s all right brain. This character is pretty insistent and wakes me up to talk.  More than once, she’s dragged me out of bed, and I have learned over the years to obey when that happens.  For three or four months, I’ve been dutifully showing up when she nudges me, writing down what she says, then moving on to whatever other work I’m doing.  At the end of August, I started writing actual, linear scenes and pages.

Last week, the left brain said, "Okay, you’re going to screw it up if you don’t let me help," so I’ve dragged out worksheets I’ve made over the years to help me keep plotting in mind, combinations of Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, Victoria Lynn Schmidt’s 45 Master Characters (which I really love for a particular 9-step women’s journey model that works very well for me), and McKee’s famous, complicated and powerful Story.  (One of the most valuable concepts I’ve learned is his idea of "the negation of the negation" model of plotting.)

Which leads to this, dividing a giant piece of paper into four sections and mapping out which scenesMapping  go where and what conflicts and themes I’m actually working with.  I have the stereo playing, milky sunlight coming through the window, a whole delicious story to write, and a character I really love.  You remember that Jack Nicholson’s character was a writer, don’t you?  It doesn’t get any better than this.

And yes, I’ll inevitably ruin the current celestial perfection of it, but I’ll have a grand time doing it. 

Remind me I said this when I get to that last 75 pages, okay?