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Quick-and-easy tools for structural editing

If you’ve finished your first draft, these tools will help you to analyse your storyline and identify where to make changes when you embark on your macro edit. They’re planning tools, but they’re useful for your edit whether you’re just using them for the first time, or blowing off the dust and revisiting your original plans.

This post focuses on some quick and easy techniques; I’ll take a look at the larger, more complex tools in a future post.

Vision for the story

If you wrote a vision or intention when you set out to write your novel now is the time to revisit it. For my second novel, The Land Girl, my intention was to tell the story, across generation and class, of how life changed for women during the First World War, and how this progress came undone after the Armistice.

When I came to the end of my first draft, I was able to see where I’d stayed true to this intention, but also where I’d drifted from it.  This helped me to identifiy scenes and subplots that were superfluous to the story’s central theme.

If you didn’t write down your vision or intention at the beginning, it’s not too late to do this before you begin your edit as it will still give you focus and identify the core theme of your novel.

 A blurb or premise paragraph

It can be a challenge to reduce 90,000 words to just one hundred, but a whole novel is a difficult thing to analyse when you try to think of it in its entirety. One paragraph distils the story down to the main conflict and allows you to see how marketable and easy it is to communicate your concept.

One technique is to write ‘When’ and then ‘Must’. This short paragraph will identify the inciting incident, the main character, their goal and the conflict – and you get all of that plot detail from just a couple of sentences. It will also help you to see if any of these vital plot elements are missing.

Synopsis

I’ve not come across a writer who enjoys putting one of these together, but they are undeniably helpful editing tools. If you write an extended synopsis, rather than a one-pager, you will be able to see whether you’ve hit all of the right plot points and which elements of the story are the most pertinent (what you leave out of a synopsis is just as telling as what you include) and if any plotlines fizzle out without resolution.

If you’ve left out an element of the storyline from the synopsis it could be because it’s a subplot, which is fine, but it could be a tangent you followed when the main plot became tough and you got distracted by a shiny new idea. You can ask yourself now whether this piece of the puzzle fits, or if it’s potentially a distraction that dilutes the main thrust of the plot. Other key questions are whether the plot stays with your core theme (as set out in your vision or intention statement), and how the subplots feed into the main story arc.

You should be able to analyse from your synopsis if the protagonist’s external and internal conflicts are closely aligned, and whether or not they feed into one another at the story’s climax.

The other important element you can assess here is character growth. Somewhere near the beginning of the synopsis you should have communicated the main character’s flaw, or lack, and identified how the story’s early events have triggered the journey towards change. By the resolution you’ll have demonstrated how they’ve changed. Seeing it set out simply allows you to check that the protagonist’s journey has led to sufficient character growth.

So, there you have three straightforward tools to get you going with your macro edit.