Writing Tips - Chapter 4 - Structural Edit

Writing Tips - Chapter 4 - Structural Edit


Do you ever watch the deleted scenes you sometimes get on DVDs? They aren't bloopers or badly recorded, and at the time of planning the movie, they seemed fine. But when all the scenes are spliced together and the movie is viewed for the first time, some scenes just don't seem as important.

That's what a structural edit is for. This is where you read through your entire draft and focus on the story.

That's easier said than done. It is very, very tempting to start changing typos and bad grammar. But doing that now is a waste of time. Seriously, don't bother. What's the point of spending an hour cleaning a polishing a scene that's going to get cut?

The structural edit is where you look at the story, at character motives and reactions, about plot devices, twists, revelations, and foreshadowing. It's also about pace. Five action chapters in a row then five showing character development will drive a reader mad.

One approach is to write a new plan and compare it to the old one. The full draft tends to develop areas you never really considered at the planning stage, and those things can alter the flow of the story. Writing out a full structure can allow you to see your book boiled down into just a few pages. Where does the story wander? Where does it get dull? Which scenes are unnecessary?

Murder your darlings.

One of the hardest parts of the structural edit is cutting perfectly good scenes - scenes that are well written and hit all the points in that bullet list we looked at in Chapter 3. Good scenes where everything is right, but don't quite fit in the bigger picture of the novel. This is the stage where you can lose whole chapters.

Oh, it's fine. I've finished!

But is it? Another tricky part of this stage is realising that key scenes, even whole chapters are missing. The prospect that there are still whole chunks of stuff you still need to do can feel like a major step backwards. Often, at this stage, you get a voice in your head telling you to send it off as it is. You can't shake the feeling that you're going to miss the boat if you don't send it out today. Ignore it, and get back to work.

If you think you're done, but not completely sure, put the book aside and work on something else. Write another, then in three months' time, come back to this one with fresh eyes.

Once you are sure the story is as good as you can get it, the plot works well and every scene is essential then it's time to clean and polish your book.

Onwards...

Chapter 5: Editing - copy edit

Colin Mulhern

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