You’ve finally written “the end” on that story you’ve slaved over, so you put it away for a few days and celebrate finishing that novel. Whether it’s your first or your tenth or more, it’s always exciting. And then a week later, after letting it sit for a bit, you pull it out to see what kind of revisions or rewrites you’ll have to do before you can submit to an agent or editor, or even self-publish it only to discover it’s going to need a lot of work.
But if you focus your edits, concentrate on certain elements, maybe it isn’t as overwhelming as it could be. You’ve created a story. It has a beginning, middle, and end. You have characters who have goals, motivation, and conflict, and hopefully a character arc. But maybe it sags in the middle. Or there are threads that are missing or hanging without resolution. Maybe your characters are a bit flat or maybe not likeable. It might not be an easy fix, but it doesn’t have to take you months to make it the story you envisioned it to be.
What you need to do is focus your fast edit on structure and character. Structure is the foundation of your plot. If you can find your structure, you can strengthen your plot. If you can make your characters likeable, then you are on your way to subbing (or publishing) your manuscript.
A few ways to fix your story to fit the structure:
- If you are writing commercial fiction, consider the genre. Every genre has a specific structure. Not necessarily the same as the formula used in structure, but certain elements that must be present. For example, if you are writing a mystery, then you have to have a certain amount of clues found by the protagonist, more than one suspect, and so on. If you are not sure what the structure is for your genre, study some other writers that you admire that write within the genre. You can also analyze movies that fall into your genre if you are short on time. But before you can fix your structure and strengthen your plot, you have to know what the structure is.
As a side note, if you are writing literary fiction, it is based more on character than plot, so the structure would focus more on the character journey. You can still analyze a book or a movie, you would just focus more on the characters to find the main elements.
- Review word count. If your story is sixty thousand words, then you should be at the Inciting Incident by fifteen thousand words, at midpoint by thirty thousand words, and start your climax and resolution by forty-five thousand words. If it is off by a thousand or two, it’s not the end of the world. But if your inciting incident doesn’t show up until the midpoint, your structure will not work for you.
- Conflict is important, too. If your conflict is weak, it won’t sustain the story and cause your middle to sag…which will also affect your structure. So you want to make sure that the story conflict is strong enough to keep your characters and your plot going for the entire book.
When you start fixing your story structure, you might find that it throws something out of whack. A story thread that is no longer necessary, or a character that no longer fits. It’s okay, because you are, hopefully, getting rid of the extras, the scenes that don’t move your story forward or your characters toward their ultimate goals. Which brings us to characters. When you are really looking at your main characters: protagonist, antagonist, and/or villain, you need to ask yourself a few questions, like:
- Do they have a fatal flaw?
- If there is more than one protagonist, like in a romance, do they sound too much the same? Not just their voice, but their actions and body language, too.
- What makes them relatable? What is going to make me, the reader, care what happens to them?
- For the antagonist and/or the villain, even though they are putting obstacles in your protagonist(s) way, do they have any redeeming qualities? We don’t have to like them, but if they should typically have a reason that justifies their actions in their mind.
- And for romance, do the hero and heroine GMCs put them at odds?
Secondary characters are no less important, they just have less page time than the main characters, and they serve a purpose. So while you don’t necessarily have to answer all these questions for your secondary characters, you need to make sure they are believable enough to pull off their roles supporting the main characters.
Whether you are looking to self-publish, submit to agents or editors, focusing your edits on structure and character will help you get through them faster. The process might no longer be something you dread, but something that is manageable, especially if you are working on a tight deadline.
If you’d like to learn more about how to edit fast, consider signing up for my workshop, Fast Edit that starts on May 8, 2017, right here at SavvyAuthors.com. Hope to see you there!
- Greta Gunselman is currently working as a freelance editor and also an Editorial Assistant to Candace Havens at Entangled Publishing, where she started as an intern in December 2014. Prior to that, she edited for MuseItUp Publishing, and also did a stint as their Editorial Director. Greta has done a series of editing workshops for Indie authors at Savvy and YARWA, and regularly donates her editing skills for Brenda Novak’s On-line Auction for Diabetes Research. Greta is currently finishing up her Bachelor’s in Creative Writing. If you’d like to connect with Greta, she can be found on Twitter @editorgreta.