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.
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 at the chapter’s end. At present, I do not. So, to revise, I need to brush in elements of red, black, purple, and 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.
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.