Friday, May 6, 2011

Visually Mapping Tension in Your Manuscript

I think we've established I'm a bit of a geek. (If you don't believe me, go check out my posts on storyboarding and statistics). I love what programs like Word, Excel and Writer's Cafe can do for me at the click of a few buttons. If you are a visual person, like I am, there are tons of ways you can use these programs to help you with your writing other than just putting words on a page.

I've finally finished the revision on my WIP (phew!). While it is with my beta readers, I'm going through and polishing it up. One of the most critical elements I'm checking is that I have effectively woven my conflict threads (internal, external, and relationship) through the entire book, building tension to the end. Reading through is one thing, but I find it a bit tedious to take written notes as I read. So it got me thinking: what if there was a way to see at a glance how conflict and tension build through my manuscript? There is!

I'm using Text Highlighting to do this. I've assigned each conflict thread a different color:
Internal- yellow
External -red
Relationships (there are three) blue, pink and green.
This WIP contains a story within a story. This storyline will get a separate highlighting treatment, so for the time being I've highlighted it in black so that I know to overlook it this pass through.

So then I've gone through the manuscript and highlighted each scene of conflict in the appropriate color, like this:

Then, I change the zoom level down to 10% so that I can see multiple pages in the window like this:

It gives me an instant visual of where my conflict threads are and how they weave together. I can start at the beginning and scroll down, making sure I continue to build the tension throughout. I can click on a thread in question and zoom back in so I can read it. At a glance, I can see if there are scenes/chapters without some form of conflict, like this:

See the red-circled area? It looks like I might have a lull so I'm marking that down on my list of things to work on after I get my beta feedback. (I'm not making any changes in this particular document -- I've saved this as a separate file).

It only took me about an hour or so to do this and I think it will save me lots of time in the long run.

Do you have any visual tricks you use while editing or writing?


  1. This. Is. Amazing. You are going in my Resources Page for me to come back to when I'm ready to do pacing edits.

  2. holy crap, that's amazing. I'm just beyond impressed by this. ... and you really are a bit Type-A, yes??? :D LOL!!! takes one to know one~ ((hugs))

  3. Wow -- this is a very organized approach to a problem I need to fix in my own novel-length writing (the lulls). Thanks for the tip.

  4. Very nice!
    I'll certainly use it!

  5. Brilliant, very cool. Thank you.

  6. Wonderful idea! I'm going to try this.... down the road a bit. But I can't believe you did it in just an hour. I mean, don't you basically have to re-read the entire book to pick out the different types of tension for color coding??

  7. What a brilliant idea! I'm currently rewriting my novel and will definitely be trying this system.

  8. Thank you so much. It's such a great idea.