Editing Your Novel's Structure: Tips, Tricks, and Checklists to Get You From Start to Finish
Before it’s time to check for commas and iron out passive voice, fiction writers need to know that their story is strong. Are your beta readers not finishing? Do they have multiple, conflicting complaints? When you ask them questions about how they experience your story, do they give lukewarm responses? Or have you not even asked anyone to read your story, wondering if it’s ready?
If any of the above is true, you may need to refine the structure of your story. What is structure you ask? Structure is what holds a story together. Does the character arc entrance the reader? Is the world building comprehensive and believable? These questions and more have to be answered by all of us as we turn our drafts into books.
In this concise handbook, complete with checklists for each section, let a veteran writer walk you through the process of self-assessing your novel, from characters to pacing with lots of compassion and a dash of humor. In easy to follow directions and using adaptable strategies, she shows you how to check yourself for plot holes, settle timeline confusion, and snap character arcs into place.
Use this handbook for quick help and quick self-editing checklists on:
- Characters and Character Arcs.
- Backstory .
- Point of View.
- A detailed explanation of nearly free self-editing tools and how to apply them to your book to find your own structural problems.
- Beginnings and Ends.
- Editing for sensitive and specialized subject matter.
- Helpful tips on choosing beta readers, when to seek an editor, and a sample questionnaire to give to your first readers.
It’s impossible to explain how you should edit fictional structure without explaining what structure actually is, and certainly for the first-time novelist, that might not always be obvious. If you’ve dived into writing your first book without studying how fiction is traditionally constructed and now you’re looking at the end result wondering if it’s any good and what to do next, this is an absolutely superb guidebook. And if you haven’t actually started writing yet, or you’re struggling to finish off any of a dozen different stories you have on the go because you don’t know where the plot is going, I think this could be exceedingly useful for you too.
Here’s the good news; you don’t have to be a plotter to make use of this. In fact, I think it’s probably more useful if you’re a pantser, if you’ve just written your way through the story letting the plot go wherever it will. This book will explain how to find the ‘deadwood’ in the story and cut it out, sustaining the action and the interest of readers throughout the entire book.
Tucker does a great job of explaining what story structure is in simple, easily identifiable terms, using popular culture references ranging from Japanese anime to major Disney movies to illustrate what she means. There are comprehensive further reading lists in each section for you to do further research into anything you are curious about, but you can definitely do some massive improvements on your story’s structure, increasing its readability (and saleability) with this book’s guidance alone.
There’s some guidance about looking for alpha and beta readers too (and the difference between them) and what exactly you should be consulting with them about in order to improve your story before you finalize it. Learn how to fix issues with pacing, find out who your protagonist really is and why the story should both begin and end with them. Find out ways to make your villains more than one-dimensional, ensure consistency of your world’s rules (essential in science fiction and fantasy especially) and set your timeline to avoid confusing your readers.
I think this could be an exceptionally useful book, particularly for someone early in their writing career who hasn’t fully set their process in stone yet, or for authors who are struggling to complete stories because their understanding of story structure isn’t helping them get to a logical plot conclusion. It’s certainly made me think - after more than a dozen books completed entirely by the seat of my pants - about why some of them ‘work’ better than others, and about how I can improve the readability of all my work going forward by building in many of the concepts outlined here. Extremely good resource and one I’ll highly recommend. Five stars.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this title via Rachel’s Random Resources.
Bethany Tucker is an author and editor located near Seattle, U.S.A. Story has always been a part of her life. With over twenty years of writing and teaching experience, she’s more than ready to take your hand and pull back the curtain on writing craft and mindset. Last year she edited over a million words for aspiring authors. Her YA fantasy series Adelaide is published wide under the pen name Mustang Rabbit and her dark epic fantasy is releasing in 2021 under Ciara Darren. You can find more about her services for authors at TheArtandScienceofWords.com.