Revising Using JenManuel.com’s ‘Narrative Space’ As A Guide

Apr 19, 2018 by

Revising Using JenManuel.com’s ‘Narrative Space’ As A Guide

I’m Revising my debut novel again, this time using JenManual.com’s Narrative Space tool as a guide and what an eye-opening experience this has been.

Before beginning her The Reimagine Course, which costs $249, I’d done something daring. The manuscript of The Voodoo Hill Explorer Club, then weighing in at 112,000 words, was way too long for a debut novel of any sort. So, I took the first five chapters and set them aside, cutting the book to 72,200 words. Talk about killing your darlings. That’s 39,800 words of darlings.

Some of them are going to come back because I’ve realized I’m not writing a middle grade book, I’m writing something of a nostalgia book—something between To Kill A Mockingbird and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. My book is something adults would more relate to–those who were children of the 1970s, but also I’ve found middle grades do like, so I’m torn at the moment. My next quest is finding an agent who reps Nostalgia….

Regardless, that left me with what was chapter five becoming my new chapter one.

What is Narrative Space?

In its simplest definition, according to Manuel, “Narrative space is how much space on the page the parts of your story occupy. How much space these narrative parts—or moments—take up on the page.”

What she recommends, and I’ve done with my first chapter, is gone through with highlighters in MS Word and the hard copy, and highlighted the narrative spaces or significantly different moments.

JenManuel.com’s Narrative Space Tool helped me see what I needed to add and cut from my first chapter without even looking at the words.

I started with the opening paragraph and highlighted it in green. Then my main character dives right into a first conflict in the book and it is highlighted in red. A few paragraphs later I go into what amounts to a data dump—something I’ve decided I, too, can reduce if not eliminate (in light blue), followed by a paragraph in red, another light blue, back to a red, then a second conflict introducing a new character and a third conflict in purple, the antagonist jumps in highlighted in black, back to red, back in black, more red, to pink, another conflict and a different color, more purple, back to orange, one line in black with the antagonist, two lines in red, another conflict in orange, a little red, then we jump into yellow, more purple, yellow, purple, yellow, purple, yellow, purple and more conflict, a little more black with conflict, and the chapter ends.

Whew! That looks confusing on the surface of it. But it is telling me all sorts of things.

Narrative Space Interpretation

Without even looking at the text, I zoomed out, so I wouldn’t even see the words, here’s what all of this is telling me.

Most importantly, my antagonist, highlighted in gray, isn’t getting enough time on the page in the opening chapter to make him the goon that he is. There needs to be more about him and less about what’s in light blue to follow.

The light blue, see above. This section needs to be reduced to give more play to what’s highlighted in gray.

The green at the beginning. This section begins the book and nothing else is done with it the whole chapter, but the other sections support what is laid out in the beginning. To provide more impact to this section, I need to come back to it with the chapter’s end. At present, I do not. So, to revise, I need to brush in elements of red, black, purple, yellow—the most prominent sections of the chapter—the longer sections of narrative space that provide the greatest emotion and experience to my future readers, a sandwich effect, if you will.

Conclusion

Pretty cool stuff, eh? Jen Manuel is Canadian, so I threw the “Eh” in for her. This is the only tool from her course I will feature. For me it’s like clouds have been overhead and God has appeared and pushed them aside with his mighty hands, the tool is so amazing. This is such an impactful and different way of seeing my work.

Suffice it to say that Ms. Manuel’s course is money well spent for any writer wanting to hone his/her craft.

Check out her site. You’ll be glad you did.

 

 

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honesty in writing–#amwriting tip of the day

Apr 9, 2018 by

Honesty in Writing

I read an essay about honesty in writing in Julia Cameron’s book The Right to Write last week and found the concept profound. You’d think that not be so difficult a thing to do, but I’d wager as writers, so many of us at times have struggled with honesty in our writing–trying to share something beyond our scope. And when we attempt to do so, it shows.

That led me to today’s #amwriting tip–Honesty in Writing.

When I took my dog Maycee out this morning, I was treated to the view in the picture to the right. We all know that branches of trees grow outward and we like to think that they reach for the heavenly light as they mature, like we do as writers, writing day in, day out, honing our craft. Now we’ve all heard the expression getting too far out on the limb. This happens when we write about things we don’t know well. The weight gets to be too much for the leanness of the extension and the branch begins to sag, if not snap off, and the whole thing goes tumbling to the ground. But not so with this one particular branch I saw this morning. It turned back toward the safety of the tree’s crown.

Look at the tree branch, instead of reaching too far out, the branch is bending upward to preserve its strength.

I think it is important and almost cliche to say write what you know. I think it’s better to encourage you as a writer to write from your gut. Have courage to express what’s on your mind.

I’ve always said that when I sit down at my computer, typewriter, or put pen to paper, it’s like I poke a hole in my finger and I bleed out what’s on my mind. It’s that bluntness, that sheer honesty that satisfies me in my writing that has sometimes angered those who have read my writings. But it is also what has made me such a stickler for detail.

My mother has long said I have an “elephant like a memory.”

In recent years I have reconnected with friends whom I lost connection with when I was in middle school in California–because of the Air Force–and found them again because of Facebook 32 years later.

I have reminded them in fine detail of aspects of their lives and they have been astounded. I attribute this now to my writer’s mind, not just because I have a good memory, but because I’ve had the training as a writer to record detail and the daily practice of searching for detail as a writer and putting down the accurate and honest details of events in my mind and on paper.

This of course takes practice, daily practice–another essay of Cameron’s–but more importantly, it requires being honest about what is seen and not seen. It requires discipline and honesty about what is and is not there and recording accurately.

#AmReading

At present I’m on a regular reading diet that comprises a short story every day of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and an essay penned by Ms. Cameron.

Last night I read Fitzgerald’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and Hemingway’s “The Killers.” Cameron’s essay on Practice was wonderful.

I wrote down this wonderful quote from Cameron:

“While our mythology tells us that writing is about the ivory tower, writing itself teaches an interest in life outside the tower.” 

That’s quite a mix of authors you might say. I’m about to add John Steinbeck to the mix–his notes from when he wrote The Grapes of Wrath.

I’m purposely doing this because these are renowned writers who are known for their brilliance and most of all, their honesty in writing.

Conclusion

For those of you on Twitter using the hashtag #AmWriting, congratulations. You’re doing something important. You’re using social media to grow your experiences with writing. I encourage you to come back, sign up on the email list and comment. How are you honest in your writing? What are you reading these days? What tools do you use to practice being honest in your writing? How can we all do better?

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