18 March 2017

#Editing 2: Structural Edit

When I was still messing with the novel's Structure
 Pilgrims of the Pool is finished. Except it's not.

I’ve been busy this week staring at the door in my office. As you can see from the image, this is where I Blu-tack a précis of each finished chapter, colour-coded to show its point of view, and more or less split into the quarters of the novel which make up the elements of the principal’s Character Arc. And the reason for this? I had an extra chapter that needed fitting in. Why? Because I messed up. Sometimes authors just do. The trick is to realise it and correct the problem.

Each of the novels in the Torc of Moonlight trilogy have three story threads: the main which arcs across all the novels, a subsidiary contemporary, and a subsidiary historical. Because I’d messed up early in the writing (chapter 7 of a 41 chapter novel – doh!) the story threads were out of kilter. Does this matter? It does to mine as each chapter echoes and/or reflects elements of the story threads around it.

This highlights exactly what a Structural Edit is all about – the overview, the big picture – hence it is far easier to see set out on a door than it is on-screen or even in a paper document.

What am I looking for?
  • Balance – are the separate threads in groups or spread deftly through the whole, feeding from one another? Is the main story thread actually the main story thread or has a subsidiary usurped it? My main thread has 20 chapters; my subsidiaries 15 each, therefore this is a close-run thing so will be monitored during further edits. Another novel might have a single forward storyline but use flashbacks; the same need to balance applies.
  • Continuity – something can’t occur on a Thursday if it isn’t set up until Friday of the same week. Elements of a story are seeded, allowed to grow, and harvested – in that order, even if there’s a big time/chapter gap between.
  • Pacing – do the story threads reach their individual climaxes and the novel’s – and the trilogy’s – in the correct order, within a tight time-frame so as to elicit the planned reader reaction?

After re-arranging the chapter order to fit in the orphan, I then spent three days with the paper copy of the typescript, a coloured pen, and a pad. At this stage some authors like to push their typescript onto an e-reader so they simply read, make separate notes, and don’t fiddle.

But I like to fiddle. It’s part of my on-going line edit that starts as soon as I commit the first sentence to a Word document. There is no correct method; it’s whatever works for the author. My colour of choice this time round was green, simply because the typescript already holds blue, red, black and pencil. Sometimes the page can be that messy; sometimes I’m on the third printed version of a chapter, marked such in a corner.

So what am I looking for? The above, plus:
  • Theme – consistency. I want only one, not half a dozen. Sometimes novels are winged and the theme develops during the writing, sometimes the theme only becomes apparent at this stage, sometimes the theme only becomes apparent when a beta reader points it out. For this novel the theme was in place before I started writing. It is, however, the theme of the novel, not the theme of one character’s story thread, hence an eagle-eye for consistency.
  • Motifs – are they mentioned and then forgotten? Are there too many mentions? Are there too many motifs?
  • Characterisation – consistency and continuity. All main characters should change through the course of the novel because of their experiences, so if there’s a change there’d better have been a corresponding experience, or more likely a series of experiences, to prompt it. I don’t fiddle in-depth at this stage, but annotate the page and make notebook observations to study later.
  • Sense - Does the novel make sense? Are questions asked at the start answered by the end? Overall, is it too complicated or too shallow? The trilogy is deeply layered so this novel shouldn’t be at all shallow, but I can’t make it too complicated either. People are reading for entertainment. It’s a matter of balance, and adhering to the genre/sub-genre expectations.
  • Anything else – if it catches my eye, no matter what or why, the page is annotated and detailed observations are written in the notebook. Specifics are important here. Check character means absolutely nothing several days down the line. It also acts as a preliminary pass towards a Content Edit.
See you next week for my take on a Content Edit.

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See also:
Editing-1: What does editing actually mean?
Editing-2: The Structural Edit
Editing-3: The Content Edit
Editing-4: The Line Edit
Editing-5: Line Edit Update


  1. Interesting system, Linda.
    Almost at the end of the first draft of the current WIP. I'm using the 'research' feature in Scrivener to keep notes of things that occur during the writing, noting them ready for the editing stage. But I will be doing a complete print version before the end, as that's the one I pass over to Valerie to check for inconsistencies, typos I've missed, and to make sure it actually makes sense! That print version is the one that invariably highlights those awkward sentences, the odd homophone and those pesky typos that manage to worm their way through the filters of on screen editing.

    1. Well done, Stuart, for almost reaching the winning post, so to speak. I must admit that I've never had to do a true structural edit before, but I'm pleased I have as it has thrown up other chapter sequence queries. And because I've decided to write this series as I tackle the editing, I'm focused on various other aspects as well. It's all part of the learning curve that really never flattens out, eh?

    2. As you say, we never stop learning. Just this morning I realised, as I was writing it, that the 'last chapter' was, in fact, the penultimate. I needed to insert another. At least Scrivener allows that to be done simply!
      And, it's true that writing about the writing process affects the way we tackle various challenges. It seems to open up the mind to new ideas.
      Keep at it.
      Looking forward to reading the new one.