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Editing a Novel: Structure

            This is a term thrown around without really knowing what it is either. In fact, it’s a term that’s more so know in context than definition amongst many writers, myself included until I pondered it one day.

            Structure is not grammar. Structure is the way the novel is built or put together. Here’s a good way to put it. Say that you don’t write chronologically, but you write scenes. That means when all the scenes and parts and chapters are done, you’ve got to put it all together to make a working novel. That means you may have to add a paragraph or so to transition here or put two scenes or so together to make a chapter there or take out a paragraph and put it somewhere else for flow. That’s structuring our novel.

            Now it’s easier to structure your novel when you just write it straight through. The problem is you may not pay as much attention to structural problems as you would when you building the novel after you’ve written it out of order.

            Think of it as building a house. You’re in the bedroom so that means everything in there is everything you put in a bedroom, but suppose you throw a toilet stool and sink in the middle of the room. That doesn’t go there and undoubtedly it’s going to cause some problems in the room. It shouldn’t be in the room or at least sectioned off in a bathroom. Or let’s say that the plumbing in your house is done wrong like the plumbing in my house recently. That led to a water problem, which led to a gas problem (it was seeping out), which meant we had to fix it or we would not only have to worry about water leaks, but dangerous gas fumes. In other words, these are things that can make a house fall apart eventually.

            It’s the same thing with your novel. Things like a misplaced paragraph, info-dumps, inconsistent pacing, unclear plot, too many plots, fillers etc. are structural problems. Let’s say I’m writing a book about two people falling in love or something and the point of a scene is to introduce them. One of the parties involved is a mechanic and so I briefly mention that he/she is a mechanic and they like that line of work. A line or two is okay. But then let’s say I go on and on about how he/she found his/her passion for mechanics, and all the struggle it took to be a mechanic and open a shop and his pitfalls and obstacles. Not only is that info dumping, it doesn’t go with the scene.

            Now that doesn’t mean the information can’t be used somewhere along the way, but not in this scene. It’s not structurally sound. That’s not going to flow nicely. So instead of trying to explain this, let me tell you things to watch out for.

            1) Inconsistent Pacing: For the most part, the pacing of the novel should be the same throughout the entire book and when I say that, I mean the speed at which you get to where you’re going. You shouldn’t take your slow sweet time building up to plot events and then all of a sudden things are just happening like they would happen in a thriller. That will make the novel seem rushed. Nor should you have a quickly paced novel and then suddenly slow it down to build up to another scene. Then it will feel like your novel is dragging on. There’s a certain balance that has to be there. That’s not to say you can’t have a fast paced action scene or downtime every now and then, but for the most part, be consistent.

            2) Unclear Plot: This is a big problem and this problem will certainly show during the query process. Veteran writers can pick up on it right away. I can pick up on an unclear plot right away. The biggest give away is when you don’t know what the story is about. If the point of your novel is for the girl to defeat the evil sexist maniac, that means most of your main events should lead to resolving that conflict. But if you spend more time talking about her romance with the hot older guy whose helping her out, which is a subplot, then you have a giant problem that needs to be fixed. That’s not to say you can’t have a subplot or two, but they shouldn’t take over the novel.

            3)Info Dumps: Don’t even try to edit these. Just take them right out and weave this stuff in the novel. Nine times out of ten, the novel can work without it and these are one of the things that mess up the pacing of the novel. If you can’t make it a scene, or relate it to something the person is talking about, you can do without it.

            4) Too many Plots: This actually goes in with unclear plots. Because too many plots can certainly hide the main plot, but this doesn’t mean you’re not putting enough importance on the main plot to resolve the main conflict. It’s just hard to find it amongst all the twists and turns in the novel. My suggestion? Only bring out the plots that in some way form or fashion come out of the main plot. That means that any subplot that does not have to be resolved in order for the main conflict to be resolved don’t need to take precedence. That’s not to say that you can’t have one or two that aren’t directly related, but it must be done with care because too many bog down the story.

            5) Misplaced paragraph or sentence etc.: A misplaced anything messes up the flow of the novel which makes it a structural problem. Usually these paragraph may be essential to the novel, but are just out of place and many times it’s only a matter of cutting it and moving it a few paragraphs up or down. You’ll also find that these misplaces sentences are signs of redundancy because it is very likely you said the same thing somewhere else.

            So looking out for these things in regards to structure. Fixing them makes for a much tighter, focused, and interesting read. Not to mention it makes the novel more organized… as organized as a novel can get anyway when you’re trying to keep the surprises coming.

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