So this week, I cogitated.
My first act was too long and too wordy. My fourth PoV was introduced too late. The threads of the main plot and the subplots weren’t coherent. The book didn’t know what it wanted to be. So I opened my Nita Curio file and did some mapping.
Story mapping for me (not necessarily for anybody else) is taking the essence of a scene–Protagonist and Goal, Antagonist and Goal, who wins, what plot does it move?–and reducing it down to a Curio card, and then arranging the cards in chronological order in columns that identify the setting. My curio cards look like this:
So at one glance, I can see that:
• It’s Nita’s PoV (yellow background to the box)
• The focus of the scene is on solving the mystery (the magnifying glass)
• The subtext of the scene is the relationship between Nita and Button (the sun)
• What Nita’s focusing on throughout the scene, her goal (do her job, the thing that gives her life meaning).
• What Button’s focusing on throughout the scene, her goal (keep her job, the thing that gives her life meaning.
• What climax the scene is heading for (Nita wins and gets out of the car, Button following)
Later on, Nita and Button revisit the partnership bit in the car, once they think they’re done investigating for the night:
• It’s Button’s PoV (pink background to the box)
• The focus of the scene is on the partnership (the sun)
• What Button’s focusing on throughout the scene, her goal (which side is best for her career).
• What Nita’s focusing on throughout the scene, her goal (setting Button free to save her career).
• What climax the scene is heading for (they’re partners heading into danger together; nobody thinks Nita’s going to stay in the car)
I can do that all analysis with text, but since there are sixteen scenes in Act One, I can’t see the progression at a glance in text. In Curio, I can.
• I can see that Nita has nine scenes and Nick has eight, which is the right balance; Nita’s the protagonist so she should have the edge.
• I can see that Button has two scenes which is right for a subplot, and that they’re distributed throughout the act and not clumped.
• I can see that Max (green card, bottom right) has one scene and that it happens too late in the act; not sure how to fix that but cogitating.
• I can see that they move throughout multiple settings on the island, developing the world in the background of the action, starting on Primrose street with the bar, Nick’s apt. and Nita’s house, then moving to the diner and the rest of retail Deville, then to the government buildings, including the historical society, and then farthest out to Hell and the Nature Preserve, a gradual progression from a closed setting (the bar) to a wild, open setting (Hell and the Nature Preserve) so the reader doesn’t get lost in the shifting scenery bouncing back and forth between settings.
• I can see (okay, it’s harder to see in this little graphic but obvious in Curio) that the mystery and love story continue throughout the plot, swapping main plot and subplot roles as the character arc demands.
Looking at this, my big structure problem is that Max’s PoV comes in so late. I’ll foreshadow Max to set him up, I can do that in the Belia phone call, but I’m not sure that’s enough, and since Nick can’t go to Hell any earlier, Max is pretty much stuck with a late intro. So lots of foreshadowing. I thought I was introducing Button’s PoV late, but I think I can get away with that since she’s so present in Nita’s scenes.
The point here is that I can fix this act because I can see it in this map. It meant cutting the lunch and morgue sequences, but I can either use them in the second act or just lose them forever; this act is tighter without them.
One big caveat here: I wrote over 60,000 words before I did this. Don’t start organizing until you’re well into your discovery draft. In this case, I had the first act discovery draft done, but I needed to focus it before I could move on to finishing the discovery drafts of the last three acts. I am not doing this for those three acts yet because I don’t know exactly what’s in them–I have a pretty good idea and a lot of it written, I just don’t know all of it yet–so I have to keep on writing to discover the rest of the story. But now I know what it rests on, so I’m good to go.
EDITED TO ADD:
Fixed the numbering and added notes as to the time progression, which wouldn’t be on my map, they’re just there for you all.