Character Mapping

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

I’m a bit of visual learner, so it’s no surprise that one of my favourite Scrivener functions is the ability to see a novel outline as index cards pinned to a cork board. I’m also a big fan of the character sheets (which allow me to note key characteristics of individual characters), but recently I was struggling with how I could best articulate the relationships between characters.

I love the idea of visualising these relationships in a diagram and have taken to using Google’s Lucidchart app to develop a network map that clearly and simply articulates the links between the characters of my novel-in-development, Elementals. Below is an early draft of the network. As you can see, I’m able to identify both direct and indirect relationships between characters as well as use colour to code different elements (in this case, red text boxes for Fire Elementals and coloured text for emotional (rather than functional) relationships).

Using Lucidchart to visualise character relationships in ‘Elementals’

I love being able to see the full tapestry of character interactions at a glance – it affords so many great advantages:

* Identifying opportunities for minor characters to have more influence on the plot through their relationships with other characters
* Identifying heavily-linked characters – allowing me to better consider how plot developments will impact on them through their direct and indirect relationships
* Keeping track of how relationships change as the novel develops (perhaps through using colour-coded arrows for different parts)
* Identifying and addressing unnecessary complexity in the character network – e.g. “Do I really need another character for this plot development or could an existing character perform this role?”

What about you? How do you plan and keep track of character relationships and networks?

Character Mapping

Sculpture & Fiction

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

The first draft of a novel always feels like a marathon for me. I will write a few paragraphs and then read them and then re-write them, add some more paragraphs and repeat the whole process again (ad nauseum). I just really, really want my novels to be good. To be worthy of reading. To be something I can be proud of.

I remember studying for my end of high school exams and Brother Celestine reminding me, “Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien (the best is the enemy of the good)”. Both he and Voltaire understood that our desire and desperation to be perfect was a hopeless cause and ultimately counter-productive – that it would cause stagnation through never-ending improvements spurred on by fear of failure and crippling self-doubt.

I wish I could say that I went on to heed their advice, but I still strive for a kind of perfection every time I start a novel. I want my words to encourage me along the path, to reassure me that I am a capable writer whose story is worth telling. This inevitably results in a very long (and always, in the end, aborted) first draft process.

But this time it will be different. Why? Because I have two pieces of the puzzle I didn’t have before.

The first piece – I am not alone. Seems like this is a fairly typical illness most writers are plagued with.

Second piece – I now have some reassurance that writing a messy, incoherent, awful first draft is not only common, but necessary.

Joshua Wolf Shenk said it best when he advised that it is

Hard to know the shape of the thing until you have a draft

The quote immediately reminded me of sculptors – who hack at a piece of marble or hew a piece of wood into a rough shape first, hinting at what the final product may be, but never eliciting any real detail. Their’s is a work of constant refinement, of slowly magnifying their focus to concentrate on smaller and smaller details, until the final masterpiece is unveiled.

It made me realise, that a first draft of a any piece of writing is the discovery stage. It is about finding and setting free the story trapped within my mind. It is a first incarnation, born without sophistication, yet with a direction and sense of purpose. And it is from the first draft that we can begin to understand this beast that is our story and better understand what it needs to mature. For writers, like sculptors, this additional refinement is (as August Rodin noted) a simple matter of chopping off what we don’t need.

Sculpture & Fiction

‘Mr Miyagi’ your opening scene

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

I want to write a great novel. To craft worlds of complexity, develop engaging characters and tell stories that captivate, engage and inspire. I want my first page to grab you in a way that changes your reality and creates a connection that you wouldn’t want to sever, even if you could.

We’ve all heard that the first page is critical. If they read the first page, they’ll read the first scene. If they read the first scene, they’ll read the first chapter. And (if you keep that momentum up), the rest is (successful) history.

No pressure, hey?

Recently I was stuck on writing the first few paragraphs of my new novel, Elementals. Normally, I start my writing process by whatever first line pops into my head and just sort of carry it on from there. But that was always my problem – I would have an awesome premise, great opening scene, but nowhere to go after that. No plan, no roadmap. And, consequently, I have amassed a large file of started (but never finished) novels.

So this time, it was different. I pulled together a cohesive and interesting novel outline full of promise. And then sweated on what opening words would do this story justice; would capture its essence, would capture the voice and tone of this tale that, for now, only exists in my head and on a few index cards in Scrivener.

Again, no pressure, right?

My problem isn’t writer’s block – I have a thousand and one potential opening scenes that flit through my brain. My problem is that I’m looking for the soul mate of opening scenes. The one. The opening scene that you will love and that will slay you simultaneously.

I test all of the potentials out, but they never seem to live up to my ideals – they’re flawed, meh, cliched, juvenile, unoriginal, meaningless, afraid of commitment.

So where do you find ‘the one’? I went where I found all of my fictional true loves – my favourite novels. Revisiting the opening pages of these old friends and classics was (beyond being a no-brainer), a call to arms. Yes, I was inspired, but I was also challenged – in a very real “bring it on” sort of way.

Nietzsche wrote, “One repays a teacher badly, if one always remains nothing but a pupil”. Daniel San lived up to the legacy of Mr Miyagi, Luke became a Jedi Master, Simba became the Lion King, and I want to see my name, like Dostoyevsky, on one of those Penguin Classic books.

So, I checked out some of the best opening lines of literature ever, and responded to the call. It may not go down as the best opening line, but it is a much better one than those that came before.


‘Mr Miyagi’ your opening scene