Book Building — Visual Aids

I’m a visual learner at times.  I like pretty diagrams and flow charts which make me feel like complicated subjects are being politely spoon fed to my brain.

spoonfed brain

So when it came to writing a book, when I hit some serious issues, I turned to a visual solution.  Hopefully some of these problems are familiar and the solutions helpful.

Problem: I kept forgetting who was who.  And I kept forgetting how important they were, how they related to each other, and if they were involved or not.  Another big issue for me, is I wanted to make sure my books weren’t too full of female or male characters.

Solution: Character Chart.  For me, a Character Chart is a good way to keep track of whatever sort of information my heart desires.  There are a lot of suggestions how to do this if you consult Google, but most of those lists are just as information filled as humanly possible.  Because I prefer pretty colors to organization, and because I started this back when I wrote my first book and had little to no working knowledge of image editors, I made my first character chart on MS Paint.  What follows is a super-made-up example of a character chart that I use.  You can do this by hand or on a computer, or in a document or table format if you want.  You can also choose to include tidbits of information on specific characters alongside their names if you want, too.

character chart example

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Problem: I kept losing track of time.  I have a habit of saying “Two days later… A few hours later…” and then not really paying attention to the fact that three days have passed, and the sun should have set an hour ago.

Solution: Chapter Timeline.  I use Microsoft Excel for this one, because then it’s easier to go through and edit things as you move through the book.  The time detail you include can be as specific or as vague as you want.  Creating a chapter timeline also helps you to see where in you’re book you’re spending the most time, and if you choose to include an EVENTS column, it can go miles in helping you create a synopsis.

chapter timeline example

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Problem: I lose track of places. By this, I mean to say that I tend to let my characters stay in one of a few places.  When I was writing my second book, there was a lot of emphasis on travel and journeying adventure.  There was also a swirling storm of loose magic creating a path of destruction across the land, so that was something.  I needed to move my characters to and fro, and I didn’t really know where they were going until they got there.

Solution: Map-making 101.  Now, I know it’s a bit of a tired element to have a map of your world included in the book.  Yet, there’s a reason authors do it.  It’s not just so that the reader can have a visual aid, it’s also so authors themselves can have a visual aid.  Whether you’re working with a map of Chicago to figure out how long it would take your character to race downtown, or you’re trying to effectively landlock a nation (a la Andorra, the mini country landlocked between Spain and France), a map can help you keep track of everything.  You can sketch it out on paper, on the computer, or, like I did, on a giant whiteboard.

cropped Elledor Map

Above is the map for my fantasy novel, and the legend for it is on the right.

cropped legend

I find it handy to create your own legend, and try to think of things like the geography, the trade routes, the elevation, the demographics.  Where do people live, and where do they avoid?

You’re map doesn’t have to be color coded or neat and pretty.  I’d be lying if I said that was my first draft.  That’s the map I drew when I wanted a dainty visual after I started figuring things out.  To be truthful, my first attempt looked something more like this (below):


And I’m totally fine owning up to the craziness of my first draft.  To me, it represents the brain of someone who’s writing a book and creating a world.  It’s a bit chaotic, tangential at times, but there’s an overall image that sorta kinda makes sense somewhere in there.

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Now, if any of this chaos helped you out at all, then it has served its purpose!  How about you? Do you draw maps? Sketch cities? Draw characters?

And if you have any other visual aids that you use or someone you know uses, please leave them in the comments for others to see!

With that, I’ll leave you with this alternate ending for spoon-fed brain:

Spoon-fed Brain

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One thought on “Book Building — Visual Aids

  1. Pingback: After NaNoWriMo December 2014: 4 days left! | words — and other things

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