What Can a Story Map Add to My Writing?

The Writer's Compass

The Writer's Compass

One of the most frustrating experiences I had during all of the hundreds of lectures, seminars, workshops, books, tapes, and university classes on writing I attended and read was that everyone told me to focus on something different. All of these instructors had a different angle they thought was the most important aspect of writing. Have you ever experienced that?


Sitting in a graduate class at the University of Southern California watching another professor overlay Aristotle’s elements of dramatic writing on the 3-Act structure, an idea occurred to me. If I could take everything I’d learned, and I had several years of notes, and place it on the structure chart, I could just follow across the chart and write a story containing everything it needed.


When I began drawing out this idea, I soon learned that there really weren’t so many elements after all. There were only a few key elements, and everyone I’d been listening to was pretty much using different terminology to say the same things.


Then the light bulb when on and I thought, what if I replaced these key elements of good writing with ideas for my story, then I could see how my story was laid out, what was missing, what I could move around to make the story stronger. And the Story Map was born.


Instead of using outlines, which required linear thinking, or trying to put everything into a synopsis, I drew a visual map that showed me where the holes in my story were and which ideas were weak. I didn’t have to start at the beginning, I didn’t have to write in complete sentences. I could put any idea I had wherever I thought it went in the story, and I could change it all up as the story progressed.


I teach screenwriting at Pepperdine University, and I use part of this creative writing process to teach my students how to put together a 90-page first draft of a screenplay in one semester. If you know anything about writing a screenplay, this is a daunting task. Most of my students complete this first draft because I give them the tools: the story map and 7 stages, which help them to develop the story they want to tell.


What can a story map add to your writing? It can help you map your ideas to see if you have any key elements missing from your story, and which ones are weak.

For more information about The Writer’s Compass, go to http://thewriterscompass.com


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