As with Stonehenge, the elements of a novel need to be placed in just the right place and with the links to make the story work.
Editing—The Structural Edit
It’s suggested that after you complete your first draft that you put the manuscript in a drawer and take a break for weeks or even months and then edit with fresh eyes. Re-read your work and ask yourself the following questions.
- Is the manuscript easy to read?
- Does it make sense and have a consistent style?
- Does the novel start at the right time and place? Avoid starting a novel with a backstory. It’s better to get straight into the narrative.
- Are the chapters in the right order?
- Eliminate unnecessary repetitions?
- Search for contrivances, conveniences and plot holes in your story?
- Add tension from the beginning. Ending chapters and scenes with a cliff-hanger, or an intriguing question which will keep the reader engaged.
- Make sure the pacing is consistent throughout the book. Start strong, avoid meandering middles and finish strongly.
- Look at your setting? Are there enough description of places and people? Have you captured the mood, beliefs, language, and customs of your setting? World building involves research and imagination.
- Does each scene or chapter have a designated character’s point of view? Avoid head hopping from one person’s POV to another. It can get confusing. It’s easy to slip into another character’s POV without realising so check this carefully.
- Keep characters to a minimum only include those essential to the story. Ask if your characters are well-defined? Do their names suit them? Let the personality and description of the character emerge gradually. Do your character’s change and grow as the story progresses? Does each character have a unique voice so that when they speak, they are easily identified? Are their motivations sensible? Avoid stereotypes such as grumpy old men, silly secretaries etc. Give your characters challenges, quirks and personality.
- Research, make sure it is correct and have your sources written down for further reference. Assume all your readers are experts and will get upset with inaccurate information.
- Avoid rushing your ending. It can be tempting to summarise at the end of a novel so avoid clarifications and show rather than tell.
Structural editing is the big picture. When you do this edit, don’t worry about correcting spelling, grammar and punctuation. If you need to delete chunks of your work or add more narrative, you will need to do another line edit, anyway. I do the line edit after I make structural changes.
Having readers and critique partners is essential for structural editing. It may be helpful to have a list of questions or even formulate a questionnaire so you get consistent feedback from several readers.
Each element of the structural edit is important and needs to be addressed. Use Google and search for topics such as “Pacing your novel”, “Points of View” or “Character development”. You will uncover an abundance of good advice. Your local library will have books covering writing style and plotting a novel. I wish I had taken more time to learn and develop my writing skills before I wrote my first novel. I’m still learning and growing as a writer and I’m no expert, but that’s what we do at Indie scriptorium: we learn, share and grow.
© Elsie King 2022
Photo from Creative Commons