EDITING THE SHAPE OF YOUR NOVEL

Today’s piece is part three in a series I’ve been doing about editing. Week one  http://wp.me/ppiTq-Fl looked at different methods writers use to edit their work and last week I discussed editing bit by bit – looking for the little things that need changing. http://wp.me/ppiTq-FB

So today, I wanted to talk about changing the shape of your novel and explain what I mean by that.

To me, editing the shape of your novel is about its structure and point of view. It’s about the focus of your story and the events and people that make it unique.

Writers have different weaknesses – it’s a case of identifying and understanding the things that cause problems in your writing, and addressing them in future drafts.

I know that my brain seems to work in mysterious ways and often puts things out of sequence, so this is something I have to pay particular attention to in the editing proccess.

OUT OF ORDER

You’ve probably gathered from previous posts that I’m a bit of a plotter. Before I start writing, I know who my main character is, three major events that will happen, two turning points, the climax and usually how it will end.

I plot these in what I think is a perfectly logical sequence, but usually after I’ve written a draft or two I find that some things are not in the right order. It’s not that they’re wrong; it’s just that there is sometimes a better place for an event or a piece of writing in the story.

I know I have a tendency to ‘write out of order’, so I always try to stand back and ask myself, ‘Does this event or piece of writing fit here?’

To be honest, I still don’t always pick these things up, and that’s where it pays to belong to a writer’s group or even having one good crit buddy can be of huge help here.

And even when I look at a page with a critical eye, I realise that there are often paragraphs that can be moved to improve the overall structure. It’s something I always look for in a story – are things in the best sequence?

It’s also important to stand back from your story and decide whether you have a proper plot arc or just a series of events. The proper plot arc needs:

  1. A hook at the beginning
  2. Rising tension
  3. Turning points
  4. A climax when everything comes to boiling point and something major changes for the character or their life
  5. A conclusion, where all the loose ends are tied together.

When you’re looking at the structure of your story, think also about how you have chosen to tell it.

Is your story straight chronological narrative or does it have flashbacks? Some stories are told with mulitiple points of view. Others are presented in alternative forms like blogs, diaries or letters. Does the form you have chosen work best for your kind of story? Are the flashbacks in the right places and sequence?

POINT OF VIEW

Point of view is all about who is telling your story? When I’m looking at point of view in the editing process, I ask myself,

  1. Is the character I have chosen the best person to tell this story?
  2. Have I used a consistent point of view?
  3. Are my tenses consistent?
  4. Does the point of view I have chosen allow me to get enough information to the reader?
  5. Will readers engage with the person telling the story and what happens in it?

With my current YA novel, Saving Sarah Davis, I realised during the editing process that the answer to question 5 was ‘no’.  Sarah’s voice wasn’t strong enough and that in some ways she wasn’t very likeable – so it was back to the plotting board. I went back and worked on my character until I found her real ‘voice’. Once I knew exactly who she was, everything fell into place and even some of her annoying traits became more bearable.

When I’m trying to discover my character’s voice I don’t just look at them, I look at their relationships and how they interact with others.

If a publisher likes your story, but didn’t quite engage with your character or says that it’s missing that illusive ‘something’ they are looking for, chances are it could be ‘voice’. Particularly with children’s and YA novels, your main character needs a strong, unique voice and point of view.

I’ve written more about  point of view in another post at my blog https://deescribewriting.wordpress.com/2010/01/18/tuesday-writing-tip-pondering-point-of-view/

A CLEAR FOCUS

When I’m looking at the shape of my novel in the editing process, I also try and sum up in a paragraph what my novel is about. If I can’t do that then I’ve probably strayed too far from the plot and introduced too many complicating factors that might not need to be there.

For example: Letters to Leonardo is a story about a 15-year-old boy who gets a letter from the mother he thought was dead. He copes with her mental illness and the turmoil of her reappearance in his life by writing letters to Leonardo Da Vinci.

Of course there are many more themes and events in the story, but this is basically what it’s about.

If you know exactly what your story is about, this makes it a lot easier to convey to a publisher or to the reader.

I hope you have found this post useful. If you have any editing tips or insights about how you work, I’d love to hear them. Feel free to share your experiences with blog readers in the comments section of this post.

Next week on Tuesday Writing Tips we’re going to look at editing language and dialogue.

Happy writing and editing:)

Dee

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14 thoughts on “EDITING THE SHAPE OF YOUR NOVEL

  1. Very useful post, Dee.

    What always amazes me is how easy it is to miss the ‘clunkers’ in one’s writing – those heavy, brick-ish, useless words, sentences and sometimes even paragraphs.

    When you first write them, they sound good. Sometimes a good writing buddy sees them for what they are – that’s why you can’t write in a vacuum all the time.

    Another essential procedure that works for me, is to read your own writing out loud.

    For example, imagine you’re reading a chapter to a group of squirming 11 year-old boys. Is your dialogue going to grab their attention? Does your main character capture their hearts (or imaginations) so that they get caught up in the quest (or whatever?)

    Happy writing! 🙂

  2. Hey Dee

    Love reading your blog – it is so craft right and always seems to hit the head on what I am doing at the moment. Now I know you don’t have an insider view into my office – but scary sometimes just how close you come!!!!

    Haha!!!

    Thanks again for a super post – and so true post.

    Bye 4 now
    Tina

  3. Thanks, Sheryl,

    Reading your work out aloud is definitely very useful. It’s one of the things I like about a MAC, you can get the computer to read it aloud for you so you just have to focus on listening:)

    Happy writing:)

    Dee

  4. Thanks again Dee,
    Voice is the problem with my current book ‘Paper Magic’ This post could help me with finding Marina’s voice.

    And I know it will help with the plotting of my new WIP ‘Olivia Stone and the Trixie Trouble.’

  5. Thanks, Jeffery,

    Glad to know you have found this useful. Voice can be elusive can’t it? I think I always know instinctively if a voice is working or not, but sometimes I don’t listen to instinct unfortunately – I’m working on that:) Now I try and keep a novel handy that has a great ‘voice’ and I use it as a benchmark to measure mine.

    Good luck with finding Marina’s voice and with your new WIP.

    Happy writing:)

    Dee

  6. Thanks for another great post, Dee. Recently my sister read a story that I have submitted to Penguin (still waiting for rejection). But she asked me what it was about. When I started to explain it we both realised that I had too much going on. I seemed to have combined 2 stories when 1 would do. So your point about saying it in a paragraph is very helpful. It can bring me back into line and makes me realise that sometimes my plot is too complicated or multi-directional. Thanks again.

  7. Thanks, Kaye,

    Summarising your story in a single paragraph really helps you get your head around what it’s about, doesn’t it? It’s really easy to put too much in your story because you’re worried about your readers getting bored, but it’s the main story and the characters that keep people reading.

    Good luck with your Penguin submission:)

    Dee:)

  8. Hi Dee

    I very much relate to what you said about writing a character that isn’t terribly likeable. I’m facing that issue right this very moment and have had to go back to the beginning and figure out how to convey his personality without putting off the reader. Like you, I realised it’s a matter of finding his true voice. In doing so, I’ve discovered he has a sense of humour that I wasn’t aware of. Now I just need to bring that out.

    Cheers,
    Marianne

  9. Hi Marianne,

    That’s exactly what happened with my character. As soon as I discovered her sense of humour, she became more ‘human’ and then I ‘asked’ her do a few redeeming things for other people instead of just being angst ridden about herself…and she became a real person. She’s still hard to get along with at times, but she is seventeen LOL.

    I’m very intrigued to read your story. Hope it keeps working for you.

    Happy writing:)

    Dee

  10. Writing an unlikeable character must be in fashion!
    I’ve got a novel that’s not quite there and get comments about her being feisty but not likeable.
    Will have to work on that. I think she may come across as a bit two dimensional at the moment.
    Thanks for this post. It’s got my mind ticking away.
    Alison

  11. Hi Alison,

    I know what you mean. There can be a fine line between feisty and narky. I think it’s the redeeming characteristics and actions that balance it out. Also as Marion mentioned, humour is good and I’ve also found that over-feisty can become too aggressive.

    Be interested to know how you resolve your unlikeable character issues.

    Happy writing:)

    Dee

  12. Hi Dee. Love your editing tips and insights. I’m having the same problem – unlikeable factor – with two of my characters. One is particularly problematic because the beta readers wonder what the MC even sees in him to love/like him. I’m having to go back to the beginning and paint him more likeable. I hadn’t noticed it because I know why he’s the way he is, and missed that others coming to him cold couldn’t relate or even empathise with him. The value of editing, and good critiquers. 🙂 Chris.

  13. Hi Chris,

    Definitely value in good editing and critiquers. One thing I did was look at what was making my character less likeable…ie her flaws and then looked at the reverse of this. Eg what makes my character too bossy also makes her a good person to take charge in a crisis. Looking at the reverse side of my character’s traits sometimes helps me come up with redeeming qualities.

    Dee:)

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