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