Graphs and Charts, Oh My!

by Addie Boswell
Published on: June 14, 2011
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Comments: 2 Comments

Ruth started it. While critiquing the first draft of my YA novel, she made this line graph. Along the x-axis of chapters, it measures three things: empathy with the main character, clarity of plot, and the “turn the page” factor. The Scriva’s oohed and aahed when Ruth revealed the chart, impressed with the the time she took as well as the sudden transformation of words into data. See the red line plunge at chapter twenty?! It packs a bigger punch than simply hearing about the plot problems. Returning home with pages of critique, the simplicity of Ruth’s graph helped remind me of the major edits.
A few months later, Melissa introduced me to a different type of charting from a book she read: index cards to sum up the important action of each scene. I added color-coded lines to show which characters appear and plus/minus symbols to show the character’s overall progress towards goal. When my novel overwhelms me, I bring out the index cards and shuffle and arrange them, hoping they’ll give me Tarot-grade answers.

I have a third chart now too: a large piece of foam core nailed to my office wall with different streams of colored post-it representing the plot and subplots. I move the post-its around, trying to weave the story tighter, until they lose their stickiness and drop off the board. (Is that a sign, do you think?)

So what is it about charts? For me, I suspect it is the sheer visual nature and the physicality that appeals. (In the VAK learning system, I lean sharply towards visual/kinetic.) While cutting and pasting on the computer is tedious and prone to sidetracks, using glue and scissors is immediate and satisfying.  At least for me. Someone else may be drawn to the quantifiable data you seem to get from graphing. As all these posts show, there is no right way to write books, there is only the way that works for you. Thanks, Scrivas, for the new ideas!

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2 Comments - Leave a comment
  1. ScrivaAmber says:

    I’m with Addie. There is something satisfying about scissors, tape, and little bits of paper. It is more fluid and forgiving than the cold black and white of the screen. Each chart or slip of paper is a touchstone that can get me back to where I need to be. Oh and Scrivener users… I salute you! I love the paperless approach to this but I can’t seem to make it work for me. Alas! I wanted it too!

  2. I have to add that I dream of getting one of Ruth’s graphs for my WIP someday. She should sell her services to other writers! 🙂

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