Coloring my Book

I’m about to give my work in progress, the fifth Mae Martin Psychic Mystery, its most ruthless examination. My first critique partner has read it, I’ve revised it with her input, including discarding an end that she wisely recognized as weak, and I rewrote the last five chapters in their entirety. Now, having reviewed key ideas in Jack Bickham’s Scene and Structure, I am about to go through a printed-out copy of my manuscript with my analytical mind, not my creative one, examining every scene and sequel as well as the overall arc.

Bickham suggests using color-codes, not words, for this process. I’ve done it for all my books so far and I can see why. It keeps me from going into perfectionistic small-picture mode, editing each line, and makes me look at the big picture. I’ll use yellow for the point-of view character’s scene goal, hot pink for conflict, and purple for the disaster at the end of the scene—the setback that actually moves the plot forward. Due to a lack of choices when shopping for highlighters, the same color code will have to work for the sequels, too, indicating the characters’ emotions, thoughts and decisions. For some reason I’ve always used orange to highlight what needs revision, and I mark it with an up arrow for increased pace and tension, a down arrow for slowing down to give more depth, a C for possible cuts, and question mark material that may need clarification. I’ll also mark the pages with abbreviations for the themes that come from the main characters’ story goals, other abbreviations for the superstructure signposts, and for acts I, II and II. I’ll take notes on any loose ends and on details I need to research more thoroughly.

Some of my reminders to myself include looking for the main characters’ vulnerability, can’t-turn-away commitment to the story goal, and agency in the events.

When I put the printout in a binder, my book gave me a paper cut. Omen of painful things to come? No doubt. I’ll be killing a few darlings as well as fine-tuning every scene. But like all the hard work in crafting a novel, it’s satisfying.

5 thoughts on “Coloring my Book

  1. Thanks for the compliments. To answer your research question:
    You’ll see that The Calling has a citations page for the academic articles on psychic phenomena and alternative healing that are mentioned in it. I once taught a course like the one Bernadette teaches in the book, so I found it easy to access this information.
    I lived in Northeastern NC, where The Calling is set, for several years. I was the fitness director at a rural YMCA. Mae is based on a friend I met through my yoga and personal training work there, a young woman from the Appalachian part of the state. (She knows the character is inspired by her.) I didn’t have to research regional dialects; I heard them.
    A lot of my research is more invisible, like all the things I had to learn about old Aerostar vans so Jamie’s van could have authentic problems in Snake Face. I try to look up all the things I’m not sure about, and I also ask experts. I’ve talked with the owner of the parrot store in Santa Fe, for example, because there are parrots in the work in progress.


    1. Your descriptions are awesome: I have not come upon any citations as yet; Mae has just begun her job to do readings and is in a quandary about how authentic or inauthentic the atmosphere is; she has her crystals and has gotten a few negative comments. The point is this, Amber—I can see and hear her, Hubert, Charlie, Bernadette, Stream. I can envision the place she does her readings; my town boasts several NEW AGE with Readings and we also have a yoga school here and in every town bordering us. My close friend is very much enamored with crystals and has tried to explain them to me and another friend of mine use to have an herb shoppe attached to her Victorian home. I love the way you write.


  2. Congratulations on the fifth book ( soon to come): I am enjoying The Calling very much and how alive the characters appear. You have a definite ability to produce colloquial expressions and language from the region as well as a keen eye for characterization and setting. I am enamored by Mae’s innocence and innate compassion and her unique gift. I like your writing coach’s suggestion of color coding, too. I just don’t know where and how you find the time to be so prolific, and I am also wondering how much research you do for your books.


  3. 🙂 I love that your color choices are determined by what’s available to buy! I’ve tried the color coding thing – and still use it to a certain extent – but I tend to forget what each color is for! You’re fortunate to have good early readers whose opinion you trust, that’s so important.


    1. Those early readers are such good writers themselves, I do indeed trust them. One of our Ladies of Mystery, Janet SImpson, is among them.


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