Let’s face it: writing a book is had. It’s not the sitting behind your desk that’s the worst part: it is the remembering what happened and building the story accordingly, that’s paining a lot of authors. First of all: I want to say that plotting out your book and keeping to that plot is one of the best pieces of advice I ever received. When applying the colour checks on your manuscript, having (or even writing) your plot is not an unaffordable luxury: it is almost mandatory!

Readers don’t like it when the book is homogeneous, when it is linear and when it is boring. I don’t like it either. And that is why you should have a good overview of all that is happening in your book, the moods of your characters, their wants, their needs, and their motivations. This way you can keep your story juicy, jam-packed with drama, twists and turns and maybe even a bit of smooching. MWAH!

Let’s explore a colourful method for identifying variations in your writing and introducing it where it’s lacking.

Colour coding your manuscript

As I said in the intro: I never ever remember what happened in my story. It seems as if I am literally writing myself empty. I put my words down on digital paper – and my mind just goes blank. BLEEP – Empty!

So, every time I want to take up the story I have to reread the whole thing. This can make me immune to the problems in my manuscript. One of the largest problems authors face when finishing their manuscript is their story being too homogeneous. Not enough actions, a linear story, not enough passion or variation in the moods of characters… and that is normal! We ALL have been there!

Although colour coding your manuscript is incredibly labour intensive – and boring, it will present you with a new angle to understand the dynamics in your novel. Although you know the whole story (except when you are like me, obvious), your readers don’t – and they will want to FEEL something or be SURPRISED.

Surprising readers means you need to come up with a unique plot – or you will need to include loads of twists and turns in your story. Making your readers FEEL something is hard. One way to make readers feel something is by using emotions. You can use these emotions to drive your characters and keep your readers on the edge of their seat. However, these emotions cannot go on for too long as otherwise, the only thing readers will feel is bored. Let’s have a look at how to colour code your manuscript to inspect the mood throughout the manuscript.

1. Take your rough draft by the hand and assign a different colour to each of the predominant moods in the story. You can use markers, big felt tip pens or even those cute little plastic post-it papers. You will be reading through your manuscript looking for the mood the reader will experience, not for the mood of your characters – although you can obviously also colour code those ones!
2. Now it is time to read through the manuscript and start colour coding or annotating according to the categories that you determined in step 1. Be very thorough. It is better to underline or mark text that shouldn’t be that when you forget to underline something.
3. Be sure to zoom out every now and then. You will definitely need a birds-eye-view to keep an eye on your colour distribution.
4. We have established that the last thing you want to do is make your readers bored, fatigued with your story. This means that you need to oppose moods. About 10% of your manuscript needs to be the antithesis of your main colour.
5. As we are talking about numbers anyway: about 30% of your manuscript needs to contrast with or complement the tone in a much subtler way. So, let’s take, for instance, the hunger games as an example. Throughout the book, we go from poverty and despair to hope – when she wins. But the subtler undertones of defiance, of friendship and strength, complement the home and contrast the despair in a subtle way.
6. What about the other 60%? Well, that other 60 % are for you to fill in. Make these 60% the main mood, the main emotion your readers will be feeling. And yes: I know. This is all an approximation as these things often overlap, but try to (more or less) keep these as a guideline.

What if you discover that 90% of your text is one block of colour. Yikes! What do we do now? Well, we will have to put in a bit more variety when it comes to mood. So try to think where the mood comes from and take a look at the other moods and how they were created. Analyse these blocks of text and apply your findings to your massive 90% colour block to make the reader’s experience more varied.

If you notice that your intended primary mood is lost between all kinds of colours and moods – manuscript mood swings, you want to have a look at how fast or gradually these moods change. Although we want to keep readers on the tip of their seats, we do not want to take them on a rollercoaster ride either.