Making Better Stories With Diagrams

While working on Mesh, I noted some gaps and opportunities to improve my story construction so I wanted to take a blog post (or two, who knows) and talk about story diagramming. Movies, TV shows and other projects benefit from storyboarding or other forms of story diagramming so I wanted to see if it would help me build a better novel.

How do you go about story diagramming? I decided to start with another novel to see how it worked, so I picked one of my favorite technothrillers (and inspirations for Mesh), Day of the Jackal.

I created a simple timeline and started writing little boxes to describe the main point the story, regardless of what chapter you happen to be on. Then I translated my notes into a Google Drawing. All told, it only took me few hours to do this because I know the story so well. Some people break story components down into stuff like ‘rising action’ and so forth but I didn’t get hung up on all of that – I just used whatever I felt like using. In the end, I was able to gain some valuable insights about storycraft and by following the same exercise, you can, too.

What you’ll notice about the book, besides its value as the Godfather of the techno-thriller genre, is that it weaves four different plots simultaneously to keep the reader’s attention until the final, explosive climax. To show that, I color-coded each of the plots and added little details (“Tension+”) to show where Forsyth was clearly using specific types of story-telling to drive the reader forward.

What does this mean for Mesh? By diagramming the story (sorry, no spoilers), I was able to identify specific pain points where the story bogged down and apply fixes. Sometimes I get hung up on a certain scene having value, but meanwhile everyone else is going to sleep. Diagramming lets you break your story down into objective parts, and then you can re-arrange those parts in a better order if the overall story requires it.

No big insights, no big ‘gotchas.’ Writing is work, story is a craft. The only way to get better is to practice.

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