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First Novel Journey: Making a Bookmap

As the novel I’m working on is a middle grade fantasy, I wanted to add to my writer’s library a book about writing for children and adolescents. By far the best book on this I have found is Cheryl Klein’s book The Magic Words.

The Magic Words by Cheryl Klein

Cheryl Klein is an editor of children’s and YA books as well as an author of children’s picture books. She has an excellent website with a number of resources useful to any writer with an interest in writing for children.

One of the most useful concepts in The Magic Words is that of the bookmap. As she says, “a bookmap, in its simplest form, is a scene-by-scene or chapter-by-chapter outline of a novel.” Any writer who considers themselves a “plotter” (that’s me!) as opposed to a “pantser” will have probably produced something along these lines.

However, she breaks this down even further into specifics for each scene, and I’ll note those here.

  1. Scene number, chapter number, and starting page number.
  2. When and where the action of the scene takes place.
  3. Which characters are the major players and what they each want at the beginning of the scene.
  4. The action that takes place in the scene.
  5. What new information does the reader learn from the scene and what change occurs as a result of it.
  6. What is the point of this scene? What is its goal and what is it meant to accomplish?
  7. Note anything that you did well or that you believe needs further revision.

As a plotter, I tend to dream up a story and characters and let it stew in my head until it all finally comes together. Then, in a state of frenzied concentration, I write it all out in what is usually one ugly, long, unreadable paragraph.

This lets me know where it’s all going, who the major players are, what the major points are, and I can envision quite a lot of the story.

But I still don’t have a scene by scene idea of what I’m going to write. Some people do really well with that. I’m not sure yet if I work that way or not. I do have a tendency to get a little nervous about the actual writing part of a project before I start, so sometimes I linger too long in the planning stage.

For this project, my first book-length project, I figured I would start off working through the bookmap. So far I’ve gotten through a few scenes, and it has been quite eye opening.

It has allowed me to slow down and stew a bit on each particular scene. I close my eyes, envision it vividly. Who are the characters and what do they want? What changes? What is the point of the scene? Is it to build emotional tension? Is it to set up a problem? What is the action? And by filling out the bookmap for each of these scenes, I have thoroughly thought through (that’s a tongue twister!) and pictured everything about a scene.

This leaves me in the wonderful position to just write it out.

I know the setup, the action, the outcome…all I need to do is write it out. And I work well that way.

I will say that, because it is a bit time consuming, at least in the way I’m doing it, that I may alternate between working on the bookmap and then writing the story. Maybe I’ll bookmap a few chapters and then write them out. Then bookmap the next few and then write them out. And just repeat until the first draft is finished. That way I get the benefit of being a plotter (having a clear idea of what needs to be done) and a pantser (leaving room open for change and growth as I write).

Anyhow, if you are interested in making a bookmap for your own project, I’ve included a PDF version of mine that you can download and use. I would also highly suggest visiting Cheryl Klein’s site and taking a look at her resources, which includes a brief bookmap of one of the books she has edited.

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