More useful tools for structural editing

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This post looks at story beats, grids and spreadsheets as they can you help to manage your story at a scene-by-scene level. This is a good time to look for that all-important cause and effect so that you can make sure that everything unfolds logically and earns its place within your manuscript.

 Story beats

 With story beats the idea is to condense the story elements down into bullet points rather than sentences or paragraphs. Aim for twenty-five story beats – though for a script forty is more common – you can always start low and then expand. Each beat can be a combination of scenes, rather than one bullet per scene, to pinpoint key events and turning points.

All you need to do is write a numbered list and then go through your manuscript and fill in the blanks. Remember to check that the story moves through the seven critical plot points, and that these are spread evenly throughout the story’s acts.

As a reminder, these are the main plots :

  1. Hook/opening image
  2. Inciting incident
  3. First turning point
  4. Mid-point commitment or reversal
  5. Crisis – the all is lost moment
  6. Climax
  7. Resolution

If you’re not sure if a scene, or chain of events, should be included in the beats then check back on your central theme, or vision statement, to see whether or not it fits. If it doesn’t, then perhaps it needs further developing, or removing altogether. When you come to revisit the manuscript you’ll be alert to those highlighted scenes and you’re more likely to notice if they slow the pace, or need further development to bring them back in line with the theme.

Grids or spreadsheets

Breaking the story down into a grid, or spreadsheet, by scene or by chapter, will really help you to take an aerial view of your story, especially if you’ve ‘pantsed’ your way through the first draft.

If you’re a planner, you might have lovingly prepared a detailed schedule before you set off on your novel-writing journey. If that’s the case, you could revisit your original plans and add any new directions, scenes, chapters and characters.

At the beginning of a project, I prefer to plan the main point points and develop the characters, but then I join the dots as I write and change things a lot in subsequent drafts. This method means that I introduce a spreadsheet once I have a first draft, I use it to track the act, plot point, dramatic action, character development, goal and theme (and it’s a great device for delaying the moment I actually begin the revisions). I also have a date column, which helps me monitor my timeline, this is especially useful with events like pregnancy and to make sure that the story ties in with historic events.

I hope you’ve found these posts on using tools for structural editing useful, and remember to check back for more writing advice, or follow me on Facebook or Twitter where I post links to my latest tips for writers.