Chapter Map

I am a visual person. In the way I learn, work through problems, consume books, and comprehend things. I enjoy the audio part of experiences, but the visual is more important for me. So recently I started contemplating how to tackle the problem with editing my novel.

First I’ll explain how I wrote my novel, and the problems that have surfaced while editing. I started the novel during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) where the goal is to start a novel and write 50,000 words in the month of November. My novel starts in the year 1785 and moves through time to the present. Due to the time constraints, I wrote it in chronological order feeling it was the easiest way to get started. And to be honest, at the time, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to sift in the parts that happened in the past throughout the book, or to proceed with how the events occurred through time.

However, once I started editing I realized I wanted my present day characters to make an appearance early on to help the reader get connected with them and feel involved with the story, as opposed to being introduced to new characters every few chapters. I reasoned that if a reader started to form an attachment to a character just to be introduced to new characters a chapter or two later, they might get frustrated and put down the book.

To resolve this issue I removed chapters two through twelve from the front of the book, and I plan to weave them in later in the story. Thus, my problem began. I’m trying to figure out where to insert these. I needed a visual representation of the book summarizing each chapter, so I could start figuring out where to insert the eleven I had cut.

I thought about mapping out the chapters on my wall, or on a big poster board, but I really needed something that was portable and that I could easily glance at while sitting in front of my computer.

That’s when I created a Chapter Map. I’m sure there are other clever names people call projects like this, but this is the name I chose. As you can see from the picture, it’s a grid with a brief summary of the main events in each chapter. I’ve written the date and location above each summary to keep track of the scenes. I wrote them on sticky notes, so when I start inserting chapters, I can easily move them around. I even started color coding each one. The teal writing represents an event from the past. Gray represents the main town where the characters live, and the red represents events that occur in the forest bordering my town.

It is a rather simple grid that helps me see events in my story and where they are taking place. And while it’s quite simple, it’s already helped me immensely. Since I like sharing tips and tricks I’ve learned or made up along the way, I have the template for the Chapter Map for anyone who would like to see it or use it. Each box within the grid is labeled with a chapter number. They’re not visible in the picture, because they are under the sticky notes, but they help me keep my chapters organized as I move them around.


Here are my questions for you today: Have you created anything to visually represent your story or novel? Whether it’s a timeline, or note cards to represent the highs and lows of your plot, I’d love to hear what you do. What little tricks help you when trying to rearrange scenes?


  1. // Reply

    Great idea for organizing a lengthy work. Personally, I use blank 3 by 4 cards and stick them on a wall. I like the larger area to write larger. However, the advantage to yours is it is portable and sits easily by your computer while you write. I guess we each have to find what works for our process and space we live in.
    I use color to code scenes and events as well. Color always helps me visualize.

    1. // Reply

      I love using note cards for organization. For my novel, I have pink note cards for my characters’ family tree, orange cards for characters outside of the family, and green ones to track my timeline.
      I keep thinking about trying a method like yours to visually see the scenes, I just haven’t figured out where I have enough wall space. It seems I have artwork and furniture taking up my wall space. Maybe I’ll have to try the hallway and do it in sections. It may be a problem that my story is so long. Maybe I just need to clear some space.
      Thanks for sharing, Christy. I think I’m always trying to ways to organize and visualize my story, and sometimes it helps to use a new method to see it in a different way. I think it helps motivate me when I’m feeling stuck.

  2. // Reply

    This is such a great organizational tip. I love that you used color code to represent time. Little visual cues like that must really save time when you are looking for something. The format that you’ve created here is so clever.

    1. // Reply

      Thank you, N! It’s simple, but effective. And you point out exactly what is so great about it, the time saving factor. I was scrolling around through chapter after chapter looking for the right spots to place or replace scenes. Even chapters I had just read, I couldn’t remember it was the last chapter the scene I was looking for was in, or the chapter before that.
      Thanks for reading and commenting, I hope to see you again. 🙂

  3. // Reply

    Mandie I know what you mean about space. My house is cluttered, but I used that poster sticky stuff and tacked the cards up over paintings and closet doors. It easily comes down and even stays up with summer breezes. Plus when hanging them on a wall it is easy to hang the dramatic chapters higher and the calm ones lower. Like you, for me, color coding everything seems to be essential or I remain muddled.

    1. // Reply

      Thanks for the tip, Christy! I have tons of that tacky stuff around. I never even thought about just going right over closet doors and such. Wonderful suggestion, and the idea of hanging chapters higher and lower to track the action in a story speaks to me.

  4. // Reply

    I’ve never used a character map, but I don’t really work in a structured way.

    I tend to use visualisation, rather than actual visual cues…I often imagine the characters and storyline and get them straight in my head before writing the full story…a little like playing the story as a movie before I write it.

    It’s great that you’ve found a way to organise your writing. I’d like to think I could become more organised eventually, but I’m not so sure 🙂

    1. // Reply

      Scarlett, I have a feeling we’re a lot alike. Despite some of my best efforts, the most organized I have been before writing a story has been to do some research, and jot down notes of scene ideas in no particular order. I’m not an outliner, I can’t do character sketches before I write because my characters refuse to stick to the plan.
      So my organization has to come later when I’m trying to clean up some of the mess I’ve made.
      I’d like to be more organized pre-novel writing. I hope that maybe it will come with time. I don’t want to try to force it too much, just a little at a time, otherwise I could completely derail my writing. That would be worse than being unorganized.

      1. // Reply

        We’re definitely alike in that way…I don’t think I’ve ever written an outline or character sketch. I remember being taught about character plans years ago…an old creative writing tutor used to hand out questionnaires to fill in about the main character, but it never worked for me. I know it’s cheesy, but I really don’t know where the story is going until I start to write it. Even if I visualise parts of the story beforehand, the characters rarely stick to the script.

        1. // Reply

          Yes! And to be honest, that’s one of my favorite parts about writing is not knowing exactly what’s going to happen, so I’d hate to lose that.

  5. // Reply

    That’s a great idea, Mandie, but I am less organized. I mostly just jot down notes in a notebook, but I like this a lot.

    1. // Reply

      Thanks, EM. I’m split down the middle as far as right-brained/left-brained. My creative process is more free flowing and chaotic, and then I come in and try to organize and worry about rules in the editing process. It helps satisfy both sides.

      1. // Reply

        You’re very welcome. You have a good process going on.

  6. // Reply

    I’m definitely not a planner, ever, with my writing. But, when I write, if there’s something I need to keep track of, like character sketches or maps, I just open up a new document in Google Drive and write it down. Then I can keep that in a separate window to look at as I go. I would never be able to keep up with your organization method!

    1. // Reply

      Hahaha I love how I’m coming across as organized in this post, because writing is probably the most disorganized part of my life. I like things to be organized, it just doesn’t happen that often.
      There are a few documents I use in attempt to get organized and help visualize elements of my story. Excel spreadsheets are sometimes useful to me.
      I think it’s kind of like ebooks versus physical books. Sometimes I like to have things on a screen, and other times I like something more tangible.

  7. // Reply

    Before I comment on your post, I want to apologize for being so slow to find it. I’m not getting notices for your blog in my email. I tried un-following and re-following and tried specifically signing for the email follow. Nothing is working. Anyway, I will try to remember to check in once in a while. I see this one was two days ago, so I hope I’m not too late for the party.

    Second, that looks like a good scheme. Especially the way you can move the chapters around. I’m very interested in reading your book and how you handled moving back and forth in time. It’s not something I would try–yet. I’m still too much of an amateur. I feel like I’ll be lucky if I can pull off a first novel written in chronological order. I had one flashback scene that tortured me for a month. I eventually deleted it and am happy I did.

    I’ve only just now advanced to a subplot!

    I do all my organization on my laptop. I actually work at a tiny desk that holds no more than my computer and a cup of coffee. Paperwork would be a nightmare for me. I’d have to juggle it on my knee.

    I use a spreadsheet for all my plot notes. The spreadsheet started out very simple at first, but as my writing became more complicated, the spreadsheet did, too. I still don’t have a good way to renumber all the chapters when I have to insert a new one [I go-around the problem by having a second column of chapters], but I can update wordcounts automatically. I like that because it allows me to see how much book-space I’ve given different POVs and events. I also read a piece of advice once that said you’re probably done editing if your work starts to get larger instead of smaller. I like to follow my trends.

    I joked to my husband that I will have written my private version of scrivener by the time I finish my book. I’ve thought about purchasing scrivener, but haven’t wanted to take the time to learn it while I’m in the throes of writing. For now, adding tiny changes to the spreadsheet as I work is sufficient for my needs. Maybe for the next book. 🙂

    1. // Reply

      No worries, Kecia. I’m not sure what’s causing the problems, but here’s a few troubleshooting ideas that might work. You don’t appear on the email list through the “Subscribe to Blog via Email” option on the website. There’s an initial email that gets sent when you first sign up that you then have to confirm that you want to receive emails. You’re not officially on the email list until you confirm.
      I use WordPress Reader, and there’s an option to Manage followed sites that allows you to select a greater than symbol next to each site you follow that drops down an option to receive emails for new posts from that particular blog.
      Those may be things that you’ve already tried. Otherwise, I post every Thursday. Once in a great while there’s an additional one, but the one on Thursdays is the one I commit to always getting out.
      If I had my way, I think I’d create a horseshoe out of three desks, so I could have all the papers and books I need within arms reach. Since I don’t, there’s just a lot of stacking.
      My editing is an interesting process. I’m not sure at the moment if my piece is growing or shrinking. I’m adding new chapters, but I’m cutting a lot of nonsense too. When I finished the first draft of this novel, it was around 120,000 words. After I reorganize it I hope to smooth out a lot of the transitional problems caused from rearranging, and start cutting some more. I end up cutting more the closer I get to my final version. I’d like my word count on this one to be under 100,000 when I’m done, probably even shorter than that. We’ll see if that ends up working for me.
      And I loved the long comment. Thanks for making the extra effort to find the new post. 🙂

  8. // Reply

    Mandie, I think it may be an email problem. Last week, I stopped receiving emails for my “likes.” This morning, now my comments are coming through. I read that yahoo was recently acquired by verizon, and I wonder if that has anything to do with it. I double-checked my “manage” page, and you’re at the top, so I’m blaming yahoo for now.

    Good to know about the Thursday schedule. That’s great.

    1. // Reply

      You’re probably right about the problem being with Yahoo. Hopefully they’ll get it worked out and you’ll start getting your email notifications again.

  9. // Reply

    I meant to say that my comments are “not” coming to my email, which I usually checked before bothering to open the blog. Ah, well.

  10. // Reply

    The longest I have ever written is a short story of around 4000 words. In that one i used different timelines with flashbacks to the past… As it was so short I weaved it without any mapping. However since my short story is weaved together with short stories from other authors we had to find connection points between the narratives by fitting them to timelines and character maps. The project is soon ready and we will release it in a few weeks…

    But most of the editing was done in group, so in the end we only needed to modify the language…

    1. // Reply

      That sounds like an interesting project, Björn. You’ll have to let me know when your group is releasing it and where.
      I have kind of the opposite experience where I only knew how to conceptualize a story in terms of a novel and I had to learn how to write short stories. I’m still working on writing horror stories into a shorter form. I’m not as comfortable with that yet as I am with general fiction, but hopefully I’ll get it down soon.

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