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Let’s Write – The Structural Edit

Welcome back to the self-editing miniseries. 🙂 It’s good to have you.

Last time, we summarised the self-edit. Feel free to check that out if you want to brush up first. In the next two posts, we’ll be looking in-depth at the first big part of the self-edit–structural editing. (Quick note. I wanted to keep everything concerning the structural edit in a single post, but I realised midway through writing this one that it would be a half-hour read at the least. Ain’t nobody got time fo’ that.)

The structural or developmental edit is the phase of the editing process where you look at each part of your story and see if it fits with the whole. Basically, you’re taking it apart, giving it a polish, and tinkering it back together.

This part doesn’t focus on grammar and word choice, but you’re free to tinker with that if you choose to. Some authors find that grammar and word choice editing influences how well they can accomplish the structural edit, and leave that for later in the process. Others can’t help but fiddle with grammatical issues throughout the process. No matter how you do these things, it isn’t wrong!

In the last post, I mentioned that we’ll search for every part of the story that damages the overall logic, anything that hinders effective storytelling, and anything that might confuse the reader. Once we’ve found those issues, we’ll cut or rewrite.

Today, we’ll look specifically at:

Next time, we’ll tackle:

Let’s get to it, shall we?

Plot and Setting

Plot

Ah, yes. The plot. If you want to know if the logic of the overall story makes sense, you have to look for plotholes, right?

But we’re often so close to the story that finding faults becomes near impossible. So, how do you take off your mom-goggles when it comes to your precious little story?

* Questions

Personally, I find questions to be super helpful. Questions force me to come at the issues from other angles, and often point out possible plotholes before I’d even considered them.

These are the kinds of things we might ask ourselves:

* Tropes

Additionally, tropes are important. Certain tropes attract certain audiences, which means readers will expect specific things to happen in our stories.

Knowing which tropes appeal to our target audiences can make the structural edit that much easier, because we have basic guidelines of how the tropey parts of the story should look.

Better yet if we find ways to twist those tropes so they still appeal to our audiences, but reflect our personal storytelling styles. To do this, we can turn to the same kinds of questions. If we can ‘what if?’ the hell out of set tropes, we force ourselves to look for alternate plot points.

* Brainstorming

But what if the questions we ask cause more questions? Personally, I find the best remedy when I’m stuck in ‘what if land’ is a brainstorming session with someone who knows the plot intimately.

Fresh perspective, folks. It’s a lifesaver. Other people tend to ask questions we don’t even imagine could be asked, and come up with new answers to the questions we’ve already considered.

It’s because of this that I strongly recommend you send the book to beta readers before you self-edit, and eventually have an editor look at the manuscript. Personally, I self-edit repeatedly during the writing process, each time before and after I send it to others to read. Even if you have just one other set of eyes go over your manuscript, the feedback will likely help plug plotholes you didn’t know existed. I’ve written a piece about handling feedback, if you’re interested.

* Foreshadowing

Finally, foreshadowing is incredibly important. All advice I’ve read on the subject suggests that we mention a thing two to three times throughout the story to make it stick in the back of the reader’s mind.

How do you know what to foreshadow? Typically, anything the beta readers point out as ‘this seemed out of nowhere’, or ‘this really confused me’ are things that might not have been foreshadowed enough.

Also, anything that will be important later in the story must at least be hinted at throughout, even twists or important items. If the pendant her mother gave her holds the key to everything, the reader must see her toying with that pendant, or maybe finding it after all these years, or whatever–anything to show us it’s important.

Setting

Typically, we’ll consider the setting of the story before we start writing, but I’ve met the odd author who had to rewrite the story’s location to suit the story they ended up telling. It happens to pantsers, but hey, even the odd planner might find a different setting more suitable to their story.

More than just location, though, we want to consider the inner workings of this world.

Again, we’ll ask some questions.

Characters

I almost guarantee you’ll figure out character issues hand in hand with plot and setting issues. These story elements just go together, and can often be solved together.

Voice

When it comes to the edit, the biggest issue is often that all the characters sound the same. They don’t have unique voices.

If this is the case, we need to ask ourselves if the character has a goal/motivation?

It sounds intimidating, but don’t worry, goals can be really simple.

Maybe all Susie wants is a boyfriend. That’s a goal. Maybe Peter wants to make tacos for dinner. Goal. Maybe Brian wants to end the rule of his oppressive president. Goal. Even better, Riley wants all three of these things. She has a little goal to start off the story (taco), a mid-length goal to bring us through the saggy middle of the book (boyfriend), and a long term goal to keep us reading to the end (removing the president).

If the character has a clear set of goals, it becomes easier to figure out what makes them tick, which also makes it easier to give them each a unique voice.

It gets even easier if we give characters:

Another trick when editing characters is to edit from the middle of the story forward. When we start writing, we often don’t have quite as strong a vision of the characters as we do after a few chapters. Because we’re more firmly settled in the character’s head after about five or so chapters, the following chapters are a good blueprint for how the character should behave and sound in the beginning of the book.

Lastly, write what the character knows. If two characters are looking at the same coat, for example, and one of them is an aspiring designer while the other is a spy, the designer will notice things like shape, fabric, colour, buttons, the lines–anything aesthetically pleasing. The spy, on the other hand, will consider how easily the garment will blend with their location, where they might conceal weapons and such, how easily they might put it on or take it off, etc.

Dialogue

Most of the points above also apply here, but I want to add some thoughts on how to find character voices.

Other things to consider:

Point of View

Another big character issue can often be attributed to point of view, or POV.

Some of the frequent POV problems include:

Development

It’s important to make sure the characters develop.

Each will develop at their own pace, and different events will cause different growth in each of them. Point is, we must make sure their growth is actually happening, no matter at what pace. As long as they are growing and the reader will see that growth, it’s fine.

Finally, we must ensure their growth is consistent. If we copied and pasted scenes into new slots in the story, we must edit those parts that reflect earlier or later growth so that it fits the current place in the character’s growth arc.

Also look out for

And that’s where I’ll leave today’s post. We’ll talk about the other elements of structural editing on Thursday.

Until next time.

Yolandie.

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