Visualizing Your Writing – A Different Way to Analyze What You’ve Written

This week’s blog is a little bit different. I have been posting blogs that focus on mechanical aspects of writing and on other aspects of the independent publishing industry. This week, I wanted to let you in on one of the more abstract aspects of the tools that I use for my writing.

I have always been more of a visual person than someone who learns from the written word. Strange for a writer, but it makes sense to me. When I write, I see the worlds of my characters in my mind. I also see and hear my characters as I write dialog for them. Now, before you think I’m crazy, it’s a technique that works for me and there are times when paragraphs and even chapters appear that I have written on some kind of autopilot. Of course, there are other times when the words are more forced because I want to get a certain amount done. Those sections are never as good and are frequently reworked.

In past blogs, I have introduced you to the mind map and the character map. These are tools that I rely upon heavily.

Here is a quick review just in case you missed those blogs.

Mind Map

A mind map is a technique where you have a central idea (such as a book) and have several ideas connected to it (chapters). Once you have these connected ideas in place, you can start to refine them and move them around to establish their order. Here is a mind map that I did for my book, Let Me Be Frank – Frank Rozzani Detective Series Book 2:

Mind Map - Frank 2

As you can see, when I established the book, I didn’t have a title yet, but the chapters ended up staying fairly true to the final book. Of course, like with any of these techniques, you can deviate at any time if it makes sense to do so based on where your characters are headed or how they develop.

Character Map

I also introduced the concept of the character map. This graphical representation of the relationship among the main characters helps to establish who is related to whom and how they interact. It is very similar to a family tree.  An example, also from Let Me Be Frank, is shown below:

character map

This image shows the relationships within the Indigeaux family. The character with a red “X” is a murder victim. It also shows the Doucet and Monreaux families and how some of the key characters are related. This is useful when I sometimes forget names or relationships when the dialog or narrative is flying into the story.

Now that I’ve recapped these two techniques, I want to introduce a new one that I’ve just started using. It is the “Word Cloud” technique. Word clouds are becoming very popular as a way to show survey and poll results. You’ve probably seen them on TV or on the Internet.

The example shown below is a word cloud generated by the website http://www.tagul.com. This site has a very easy to use word cloud generator that is highly configurable. The example shown comes from a poll where people in California were asked to supply the first word they thought of when describing their state:

California-State

In a word cloud, the largest word in terms of font size is the one that was mentioned most frequently. Tagul actually gives you a count of how many times each word was mentioned. Not surprisingly, the number one word in this word cloud was California. You can see by quick review what the most popular words were in the survey. This particular word cloud has a couple of nice features. First, it is shaped like the state of California. Tagul and other services let you pick the shape of your cloud. Also, the color of the words helps some of the words stand out and can be tied to a legend.

So, you might be wondering, what does this tool, mostly used for surveys, have to do with writing. I asked myself the same question and then I thought I would try some experimentation. I started with a short story.

One of my short stories, Play it again Des, is about a man named Desmond Brown who runs away to New Orleans as a young piano player looking to make the big time. He has some talent, but is not content to pay his dues and put in the time to build up his talent. He meets a strange man, and talented trumpet player, named Lou who offers him what he wants instantly, but with a price.

I took the entire story and used the cut and paste option in Tagul to see what the results would be. I customized the colors a bit and removed words like “the”, “a”, “and”, etc. The results are shown below:

Des CloudAs you can see, the word cloud almost tells the story in the synopsis. The words in red are the ones that were repeated over 50 times. Desmond and Hobo are two of the main characters in the story. They both “play” the piano. Words in dark blue were mentioned between 30 and 49 times. Piano jumps out. Lou, the man who gives Desmond his instant dream, emerges. It’s interesting that the word “Want” pops out as well. This story is all about “Wants”, but the word “Need” is there also. What was interesting to me is that I saw my story emerge from this graphic.

Another useful purpose of this took is to identify words that you over-use during your writing. If words like “literally” or “exactly” pop up more than a few times in each chapter, you might have a problem with repetitiveness.

I decided to see if this technique works on chapters of longer works. You remember my Mind Map that I mentioned earlier? I wanted to see how the mind map boxes matched up with the chapters. Here is an example from Let Me Be Frank.

Frank 2 - Chapter 2This word cloud is from Chapter 2 where Frank Rozzani, the main character, finds out about the case from a police detective, Anita, and enlists the help of his friend Jonesy. You can see that the words “Frank”, “Case”, “Anita” and “Jonesy” are pretty prominent. Also, a popular character from the book, Frank’s dog Lucy, is strongly represented. Again, for a visual person like myself, this word cloud tells me a story and also tells me that my chapter is emphasizing the words that I want to convey in this section of the book.

I encourage you to try this with your work. The help will be twofold. It will help you eliminate words that might be redundant in your writing. It will also help you to see of your story is conveying the right message in a visual sense.

As always, I welcome your opinions and comments.

About Don Massenzio

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available. His third book in the Frank Rozzani series, Frank Incensed, will be coming out on April 24, 2015 and is available for pre-order.

He has also published a well-received short story collection that is available on Amazon.com.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com

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Keeping Track of Your Characters – Who is Who and What Have They Done?

This week’s blog is another opportunity for me to share a technique that works very well for me during my writing process.  Throughout my personal and professional life, I have been horrible remembering names. I can remember phone numbers, addresses, and useless facts that make me desirable on any trivia team. The writing process has revealed my one memory flaw to be a challenge for me as well when it comes to remembering character names, physical descriptions, life events, and ages.

When I hand wrote my first novel in a series of notebooks, I found myself having to write character names and characteristics in the back of one of the notebooks so that I could flip back and forth whenever I needed to figure out who did what and where they came from.

When I switched to using Scrivener along with my laptop, desktop, and tablet (depending on where I was doing my writing), I tried to come up with a better way to organize my characters and their back story. Let me first say that I don’t like to plot out every detail of my characters’ back stories. I would rather have details revealed to me as they occur or are needed during the story. That being said, failing to keep key details about your characters could come back to bite you. You’ll want to keep track of their marriages, children, illnesses, education, and other things that might end up feed plot elements down the road.

So, how do I do this? I actually have two techniques that have helped me keep things straight. The first is a picture. I create charts, or what I call ‘character maps‘ that are like mini organizational charts for my characters showing who they are and how they relate to each other.

I’ve included one of these charts that I used for my second book as the cover image for this blog. The chart shows groups within some of the key families within the book and how the members relate to each other. In the view of the chart that I included, there are members of three families shown. One of the characters happens to be the murder victim within the book and her designated box is x’ed out to show that she is dead.

I keep the charts related to my current project along with the mind map (see last week’s blog) on a bulletin board near my desk at home. I also have an electronic version of each that I can bring up as needed when I’m writing on my computer while traveling.

Another tool that I use if I need more information on my characters is a matrix showing deeper details about the characters.  I use a row for each character and the columns are used for such details as the character name, what books they’ve appeared in, their physical appearance, etc.

Shown below is an example of the matrix for some of my characters in my Frank Rozzani detective series books:

Character Table

This matrix gives me a quick view of who the characters are, when they first appeared in my work, what their personality traits are, and what significant events shaped who they are. It has been extremely helpful to me and helps me to overcome my memory gaps. It also helps to cut down on inaccuracies that can plague authors when they are writing a series of books featuring the same characters . It may seem like a lot of work, but it can be helpful and actually save time in the long run.

I have seen other suggestions around organizing characters. There are those that espouse writing complete and detailed biographies for your characters. This may work for some authors. I have always been a person that prefers to work smarter and not harder. The information in the character map and the character matrix that I have shared have been enough for me to provide continuity to my work without locking me in to biographical details that might change the characters’ evolution.

I hope that this has been helpful to you as authors.  I believe that as an independent author, with some measure of success, sharing tips with you is the right thing to do. There are plenty of readers out there and if these tips help you to create a better product so that you can entice readers to your work, then I welcome you to use them.

I also wanted to thank those of you that have been reading my blog. Last week, I doubled my best  ‘viewership’ of this blog. As I continue to drum up ideas for a weekly blog, your suggestions are welcome. If there are questions that you have about writing or suggestions for some aspect of writing for which you’d like to see a blog, please let me know and I’ll be happy to entertain them.

About Don Massenzio

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of what will be a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available.

Prior to finishing his books, his published work was comprised of short stories that will be merged into a collection in the near future.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com