Book Mapping as an Editing Tool

Book mapping is a way of organizing the elements of your book in a way that makes it easier to analyze. Therefore, it helps to identify areas of weakness where improvements can be made. It’s a helpful tool for authors who are self-editing as well as for developmental editors who are trying to help clients. Perhaps the most famous example of a book map is J.K. Rowling’s for the Harry Potter series. Here you can find her book map for book five, Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix.

Format of Book Maps

As you can see from the J.K. Rowling example, you can create your book map in whatever form works for you. She used a handwritten book map on notebook paper. Many find spreadsheets to be the way to go since they naturally use columns and rows to organize information. I personally use Excel to create my book maps. Others may find it helpful to use flowcharts or other more creative ways of organizing the structure.

The key is to make sure whatever format you use is helpful for analyzing the information after you’re finished creating it. In other words, if you’re just creating something that’s visually appealing but doesn’t contribute to analyzing it, then you’re creating art rather than a book map.

Structure of a Book Map

You can create book maps in a variety of ways. It depends on what you want to analyze. For example, for your first editing pass, you may want to analyze plot lines and main character development. If you go that route, you may have columns representing each main character and more columns representing each plot line–the main plot as well as secondary plots.

If you have a theme in mind, you may also add a column for theme. With that column you’ll be able to see areas where the theme is present and areas where you can touch on it more.

As for rows, those are generally each chapter. I personally find it helpful to have additional rows for each shift within chapter too. For example, if one chapter has two points of view, I will have two rows for that chapter and specify point of view in a column. Then I can later easily analyze whether that shift in point of view is necessary, whether it should be moved elsewhere, whether it should be from another character’s point of view, and so on.

I also personally find it helpful to have an Analysis column. This is a place where I can enter notes about where I think there’s potential for improvement. Some prefer to make comments directly in the affected cells and color the text differently. It’s up to you how you do this, but you will need somewhere to indicate places where you need to make changes.

Mind Mapping

If you’re having trouble identifying what your columns should be, try a mind map. Start with the title of the book, then branch out to the important elements of the book, such as plot, characters, and theme. Then further divide each element until you’re able to identify what’s important. For example, characters could be divided into primary ones and secondary ones. Then you can name each primary character and each secondary character. Here’s an example of a mind map for a book along with some information about creating one. (Note that this is a link to a software company. I am not affiliated with this company or supporting the use of this software. The link is only for example and informational purposes.)

Content for Your Book Map

Now that you have your structure, it’s time to start filling it in. Read through your book and start filling in the appropriate cells (column and row intersection) with key information. For example, what happens to Main Character 1 in the first chapter? Enter a brief summary in the intersection of the Main Character 1 column and the Chapter 1 row.

Here’s an example of a book map based on the structure I’ve described. Note that this looks better on a tablet or desktop screen since it’s a table. Sorry, mobile users!

Chapter Point of View Carla Paul Save the World Love Story Environment Analysis
1 Carla Carla runs into her neighbor as she's entering a coffee shop. Carla is paranoid about what her neighbor wants and whether she's carrying a weapon. Nothing much happens here. We learn that Carla is paranoid, but that can be introduced in other ways.
1 Paul Carla meets Paul in the coffee shop and seems intrigued but not willing to engage further. Paul is very intrigued by Carla. He starts up a conversation with her and is pleasantly surprised with the banter. There are hints that Paul is also security-conscious. The two main characters meet & flirt. Paul is conscious of the environmental impact of his choices. He purposely does not use a straw to avoid the plastic waste. Since nothing really happens from Carla's POV in the first part of this chapter, switch this part to be from her POV. Start with her entering the coffee shop & eliminate the interaction with the neighbor. Instead, we can learn about her paranoia by her studying her surroundings and the people in it. This also gives us a chance to experience one of the early encounters with Paul from Carla's POV since the next one is also from Paul's POV. The mention of Paul & the straw will need to be moved to Chapter 2 when we're in Paul's head, or Carla will need to notice it and think about it or comment on it.
2 Paul Carla seems confused about Paul's seeming interest in her but also more interested. Paul watches for Carla to go to the coffee shop again so he can purposely run into her. He follows her after she leaves and asks her to go to dinner with him. Paul pursues Carla. He's drawn to her, and she seems intrigued by him. We're in chapter 2 now, and while the sub-plot of the Paul/Carla love story is off to a good start, the main plot of saving the world hasn't even been mentioned. Since this is the main plot, it needs to come up sooner. (ED: Add suggestions on how to fix this.)

Let me talk about the structure of this book map a little. The first column is the chapter number and the second is the point of view. As you can see, in chapter 1, the first part is from Carla’s point of view while the second is from Paul’s. Then I list the main characters, Carla and Paul. The next column is the main plot of saving the world, then a sub-plot of a love story between Carla and Paul. The next column is the theme about the environment. Last is my analysis column. This is where I indicate my thoughts about what improvements or changes I think can be made. As you can see in chapter 2, I indicate that the book hasn’t even started touching on the main plot of saving the world yet. At this point, the book feels like a romance, which is not the focus. Since I’m only in chapter 2, I’m not yet sure how to recommend fixing this, but I added a note to myself, the editor (ED), to remind me to come back to it.

Analyzing the Content

There are a few things I want to point out about this book map. First, notice that there’s not something in every cell. Sometimes things aren’t relevant to a particular chapter. There’s no need to add something to the book map if it’s just not there. Additionally, this may help you identify where you have holes that you need to fill. As I already mentioned, by the end of chapter 2, there’s not any indication of the main plot. That’s a problem, and it’s easy to see in this book map because that column is empty.

Another place where you can see problems via empty cells is by looking across the row. In the first part of chapter 1, there are a lot of empty cells. As a result, in my analysis column, I recommend getting rid of that section and starting the book a little later. There’s very little information from the first part of this chapter, and that can easily be incorporated in what is currently the second part of chapter 1.

As you get the content completely filled, you’ll be able to go back and analyze each column and row to see if things all line up. Perhaps you’ll identify a plot hole because you’ll notice that something only happened in your head but didn’t make it onto the page, and without that piece, the reader won’t be able to follow what happened. Maybe you’ll notice that the main character doesn’t have an arc; she’s basically the same person at the beginning and the end. You may see places where you can combine chapters or eliminate chapters because there’s nothing key that happens in those.

Other Ways to Use Book Maps

You can use book maps to analyze any piece of your book that you wish. Perhaps you got the main characters and main plot taken care of, and now you want to do a round of book mapping on your secondary characters. You may discover that you have too many of them, that they’re too similar, or that you need a new one.

The important thing to remember with book maps, and with developmental editing in general, is to start big and work your way down. If you start with making changes to secondary characters and sub-plots before you take care of the main characters and main plot, all of your changes may end up being moot. When you get around to fixing your main plot, you may find that you need to eliminate a secondary character that you spent a lot of time working on improving, and that would make it really difficult to get rid of that character. Iron out the problems in the big picture first then start narrowing your focus from there.

You may find my earlier blog on Writing Advice from Authors helpful to see how published authors go about self-editing. It has some ideas that may be useful for your book map or that you can use instead of a book map if this tool isn’t for you.

Interested in working on a book map together? Contact me and tell me about your project.