Writing 101 — The Map

I recently finished reading How to Write and Sell a Christian Novel by one of my favorite novelists, Gilbert Morris.

The book was fantastic–chock full of tips, strategies, lessons, and encouragements all wrapped around the idea that writing is a gift from God that should be used for His glory.

I love that. It’s really the basis of what sets a mass market writer apart from an inspirational market writer. Who’s getting the glory?

“…it’s our privilege and our duty as Christian writers of fiction to write powerful stories which set forth a more excellent way.”–Gilbert Morris

One of the tools that Morris employs in plotting involves dividing your plot into sections, each section into episodes (each episode basically becomes a chapter heading) and then writing a summary for each episode, dividing it into scenes, etc. 

Wow–that seems like a TON of work and yet nothing has been written in the actual manuscript.

I’ve never been any good at making myself outline. I did it in high school when it was required of me, but when I was in college and the professors wanted my thesis sans outline, the paper somehow laid itself out in my brain without my need to outline in detail. I might’ve jotted a couple of notes, but nothing like a detailed outline with headings and sub-headings and what-not.

I just didn’t need it.

And so far, I haven’t been very good at making any sort of overly-detailed plan for any of my manuscripts before I actually start writing. I jot notes, but I’ve never mapped out a highly detailed story–it’s always just sort of flowed and somehow come together.

But I’m a big fan of maps. The social studies teacher in me could stare at a map for hours, noting the distance between locations, topography, geography, the names and details–and I’m good at judging distance, location, and reading a map to get me where I need to go.

So why not map out my story in detail before I begin?

For some of you this might be a real “duh” moment, but for me, it’s the opportunity to try something new–to make me better.

The one thing I’ve really learned about writing is that a good writer is in a constant state of learning–always changing and evolving and adapting to become a better writer.

So I will go back to my days of being a good student and try Dr. Morris’ method of mapping. After all, like I said, I love maps.

And I’m excited to try something new. I have a hunch that I’m going to find all of this pre-writing as inspiring as the writing itself, if not more so.

Share with me: Are you an outliner? Do you know every detail of your story before you begin, or does a plot or a character sometimes surprise you as you write? Have you ever tried a new method that has become a staple in your process? What was it and how has it changed you as a writer?


Filed under Writing

8 responses to “Writing 101 — The Map

  1. I like to be structured and organized in life, but not so much in my writing. 🙂 I usually have an idea of what will generally happen in the story and I'll add notes as I go along. But I actually love those moments when you surprise yourself!

  2. Great post! I'm a definite outliner, but not a plotter if that makes sense. I know my beginning and how I'm going to get to the end, but the scenes (while some I know ahead of time) just happen.I did purchase the Book Buddy through MBT (Susan May Warren) and used it to plot this new ms. I gotta say, I really love it! I haven't used all of it, but most of it. 🙂

  3. I like a general outline. I don't go as far as breaking it down chapter by chapter, but I know all the story plot points and arc, character arcs, where the climax falls and what happens. I have to know where I'm going when I start writing, otherwise I would go down a lot of dead ends. That doesn't mean I'm not open to other ideas while I'm writing, it means I'm better able to see if and how those ideas can fit into my story. That said, there are a lot of "seat-of-the-pantsers," as I call them, who write fine novels. You have to figure out if you are an "outliner" or "pantser" and go with it.

  4. Anna-Maria: I love that- "pantster!" Maybe I'm a combination of both…

  5. I'm a mapper but give myself permission to follow rabbit trails during the writing process to see if they might lead to a better map. Sort of like click on the zoom feature of a google map!

  6. I am a psychotic, and I mean psychotic plotter. I plot every single scene, complete with GMCs for each scene, before I write a single word. And when I don't do this (like for my latest wip), I get an ulcer and writing the novel takes WAY longer than it normally would.Which is exactly what has happened with my current wip.

  7. I'm with Katie. I'm obsessive about my outline. I break down every scene in a spreadsheet before I start writing the book. It takes me as long to plot as it does to write the first draft.

  8. I love to be organized and have everything layed out. That's why I love Randy Ingermanson's Snowflake method. It takes you from a one sentence hook through to the full outline and pretty much gives you your proposal through the steps (one para. summary, synopsis etc).

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