Wrangling a long text

pages of a novel printed at 6 pt type and taped to the wall with color notations
If you print out your novel in 6 pt type, you can see the whole thing at once

A couple of years ago, I was trying to wrangle a long novel into shape. I was inserting a new storyline into some chapters, rearranging the components of other chapters, and generally getting mixed up.

In the past, I’d worked with Post-Its. But that wasn’t going to be enough this time. I needed to be able to see the whole thing at a glance, but also zoom in and see what was in individual paragraphs.

To be able to visualize the whole thing — 160,000 words — I set the body text to 6 point and chapter headings to 24. After printing it out, I taped the whole thing to the wall. (It helped that I had one whole blank wall of an office to work on.)

Then I marked up the text with colored highlighters so that I could see sections at a glance. So in the photo above, for example, you can see notations like “Sally I,” “Sally II” and so on, showing the scenes in which that character appeared.

This enabled me to physically cut and paste (or scotch-tape) sections of the novel, from strings of paragraphs to entire chapters, to re-arrange the order of scenes and events. After making a change to the physically posted text, I’d make the same change to my MS Word file.

This exercise really kept me from getting confused and from making cut-and-paste mistakes in my manuscript.

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