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Get Ready to Edit the First Draft

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Time to Edit Your First Draft

Last week we learned that we have three basic editing steps-content editing, line editing, and proofreading. We read through our manuscript and determined the various story lines of the story and color coded each of these story lines as they weave throughout the story. To read this post, click here.

Develop Better Story Lines

Stories don’t merely happen simply by throwing a couple of characters into a setting. You must write the story. You must show the reader what’s important, where to focus.

You must create a mood and choose words to elicit an emotional response from the reader.

You create the path for characters to follow, a path that readers will also be willing to follow.

This week we are going to look at the foundation of the story line called the “Story ARC” to determine whether our story is well-structured. If you are a Plotter like I am, you probably worked with story ARCs when outlining and writing your draft, and you may have subconsciously created your ARCs if you’re a Pantzer who writes a book as he goes along, writing by the seat of his pants. However, in either case, it’s imperative you re-evaluate this aspect of your novel again once the first draft is completed.

What is a Story ARC and how do I use this in my editing process to improve my main story line?

A story ARC in a novel is the development or resolution of the narrative or principal theme. Many novels contain four or six-issue ARCs, the primary arc and secondary ones.

Story arcs are the overall shape of rising and falling tension or emotion in a story. This rise and fall occurs through plot and character development.

The term “story arc” was coined in 1988 regarding a television series and quickly adopted for other uses. However, the idea regarding a story ARC is not new (Aristotle (367 BC – 347 BC) wrote about effective dramatic structure:

‘A whole should have a beginning, middle and an end… A well-constructed plot … must neither begin nor end at haphazard.’

In other words, a strong story ARC shows rise and fall, cause and effect in a way that makes sense.

The Purpose of the Story ARC

If something seems amiss in the storyline, the first place to look for a problem is often in the story ARCs.

The purpose of a story ARC is to move a character or a situation from one state to another; in other words, to effect change. This change or transformation often takes the form of either tragic fall from grace or a reversal of that pattern. One common form in which this reversal is found is a character going from a situation of weakness to one of strength. For example, a poor man goes on adventures and in the end makes a fortune.

Story ARCs often follow the pattern of bringing a character to a low point, removing the structures the character depends on, then forcing the character to find new strength without those supports. In a story ARC, a character undergoes substantial growth or change, and it ends in the last few chapters of a story.

Every classic plot passes through several stages and should be used as points in the writing process. These stages are statis, trigger, the quest, surprise, critical choice, climax, reversal, and resolution

Stages of the Story ARC

Stasis

This is the “everyday life” in which the story is set. For instance, a group of teens could be riding in a car talking about one of their friends at school and how he’s such a “nerd”.

Trigger

Something beyond the control of the protagonist (hero/heroine) is the trigger which sparks off the story. For instance, in our scenario, the car hits a pothole and the car veers into the opposing lane of traffic and the car is struck by a semi-truck.

The quest

The trigger results in a quest – an unpleasant trigger—for instance, the hero/heroine may have to deal with survivor’s guilt and the quest might involve a quest to return to the status quo. A pleasant trigger might be that no one was hurt in the accident, and the hero/heroine has a vision where he/she is to do some quest toward further enlightenment.

In the case of the story above, the protagonist could have to fight back from a debilitating injury and deal with family members of dead friends.

Surprise

This stage involves not one but several elements and takes up most of the middle part of the story. “Surprise” includes pleasant events, but more often means obstacles, complications, conflict and trouble for the protagonist.

Surprises shouldn’t be too random or too predictable – they need to be unexpected, but plausible. The reader must be made to think “I should have seen that coming!”

For instance, a surprise could be that the boy that they were talking bad about in the car could bring her flowers while she is still at the hospital.

Another could be overhearing her boyfriend say that he was only still with her because he didn’t want to look like the bad guy. He said that he planned to break up with her after a specific dance that he had asked her to attend.

Critical choice

At some stage, your protagonist needs to make a critical choice. This is often when we find out exactly who a character is, as real personalities are revealed at moments of high stress. The character must decide to take a specific direction – not just something that happens by chance.

In many classic stories, the “critical choice” involves choosing between a good, but hard, path and a bad, but easy, one.

For instance, the girl could have to choose to go to a dance with her boyfriend who was just taking her to the dance out of pity or go with the nerdy boy who really likes her and her friends would make fun of her.

In tragedies, the unhappy ending often stems from a character making the wrong choice at this point – Romeo poisoning himself on seeing Juliet supposedly dead, for example.

In this case, the girl could make the decision to go to the dance with her boyfriend and bring a gun with her shoot him at the dance before he can tell her that he wants to break up with her.

Climax

The critical choice(s) made by your protagonist need to result in the climax, the highest peak of tension, in your story.

In the case of our story it could be that the girl is standing on the dance floor her hand in her pocket shaking as it touches the cold steel of the gun in her purse ready to shoot the old boyfriend.

Reversal

The reversal should be the consequence of the critical choice and the climax, and it should change the status of the characters – especially your protagonist.

Your story reversals should be inevitable and probable. Nothing should happen for no reason, changes in status should not fall out of the sky. The story should unfold as life unfolds: relentlessly, implacably, and plausibly.

In the story line we’ve created, let’s say that she looks over to the corner and sees the nerdy boy has come to the dance and their eyes meet. She decides that the old boyfriend isn’t worth the trouble and removes her hand from the purse and breaks up with him.

Resolution

The resolution is a return to a fresh stasis – one where the characters should be changed, wiser and enlightened, but where the story being told is complete.

Our heroine goes to the nerdy boy and asks him to dance and he accepts. The story ends with the two of them dancing.

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

You can borrow from archetypal plot ARCs which are core types of narratives based on the protagonist (main character involved in the ARC). These are called archetypal because they follow common patterns that countless stories are based upon. The six core types are:

1. Rags to Riches (a complete rise)

2. Riches to Rags (a fall)

3. Man in a Hole (fall then rise)

4. Icarus (rise then fall)

5. Cinderella (rise, then fall, then rise)

6. Oedipus (fall then rise then fall)

Use the ‘5 W’s’ to plan each Story ARC

‘Who’, ‘what’, ‘why’, ‘where’ and ‘when’ are the basic building blocks of any story. When you think about it, stories are basically the 5 w’s plus change. As you’re reviewing your own story ARCs, think about how each might change and impact your story ARC in the process. When reviewing and editing how your plot arc developed, ask:

1. How did the cast of my story (the ‘who’) grow or diminish? In what ways did new central or secondary characters create extra tension, plot complications or emotional impact?

2. What new character motivations (the ‘why’) or external forces affected the course of the primary story ARC? For example: Did a misguided motivation lead to a fall, followed by enlightenment and change?

3. How did the story setting change (the ‘when’ and ‘where’) and what did this add to story ARCs? Could relocating setting increase tense and drama?

4. One thing that shouldn’t change is your story’s ‘what’. To maintain cohesiveness, the subject matter and themes of your novel need to maintain some relation to each other.

Create a Diagram of Your Story ARCs

To get a strong sense of your novel’s action, it helps to create a visual representation of your story’s structure. Use the archetypal plot ARC type you used as your template. Plot your novel’s core events and themes on this timeline. By visualizing your story this way, you can find ways to add reversals and turns of events that sustain narrative tension and keep the readers guessing. The color coding that you did last week should help you develop this diagram.

Update Your Storylines

Once you have created your Story ARCs, it’s time to start your second draft. What I like to do is open a new document and mark it as the second draft of this book. On this document, I fill in the Story ARCs and include any corresponding details from the first draft.

Get Your Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist

If you have a first draft that you would love to publish this year, be sure to pick up a copy of my novel editing checklist and if you haven’t already, sign up to make sure that you never miss a post of this editing series.

FREE COMPREHENSIVE NOVEL EDITING CHECKLIST WITH SUBSCRIPTION TO THIS BLOG +


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Time to Edit Your First Draft

Get Ready to Edit the First Draft

Every year in November, along with millions of others, I write the first draft of a novel during NaNoWriMo. For nearly a decade, I have not failed to write at least the first 50 thousand words of a new novel in my Locket Saga series. I currently have four unfinished novels sitting in computer folders waiting for editing and proofing. I have three or four books that I would like to write into this series before I will consider this fiction project complete, but I did decide to put The Locket Saga aside to work on another more contemporary novel (I’ll discuss more about this novel throughout this blogging series.)

In addition to writing my novels, I also have several nonfiction books that I have written and are in various stages of writing. During this next year, one of my major goals is to write and edit the final drafts of these books and send them to my editor.

Since finishing my most recent first draft at the end of November, I spent December focusing on other things like the holidays and what I am going to do during this next year in various aspects of my publishing business. Now that the new year is here, I am ready to focus on editing.

If you have written your first novel in NaNoWriMo, before you even start editing, congratulate yourself. You finished the first leg of the journey from book idea to finished manuscript. You’ve developed the world where your story takes place. You’ve figured out what story you wanted to tell, and you have gotten to know your characters. Pat yourself on the back. You’ve done a lot of work in a short period of time.

Now that you’ve patted yourself on the back, it’s time to get back to work.

The Editing Process

Editing a book that is fit for publication is probably more important than writing a first draft.

You can edit a book yourself or you could get others to help you edit it for you.

The editing process essentially occurs in three steps. One—Content editing Two—Line Editing Three—proofreading.

A writer could spend hundreds, even thousands of dollars getting someone else to content edit, line edit or even ghostwrite their books for them. It doesn’t have to be that way. Authors can and should learn to edit their own work to the best of their ability before sending the book off to have someone else edit their work for them.

Beginning today, I am writing a year-long blog series about how to edit a book from first draft to finished manuscript. For the next twelve months, I will be sharing my knowledge about how to edit your fiction book manuscript to perfection. Even if you are a complete novice, by the end of this year, you will have a novel that is ready to send to a professional editor or agent or publisher without spending thousands of dollars letting someone else do the work (and perhaps not even as well).

The Basic Stages of Editing

Basically, three stages exist in book editing. Those are content editing, line editing, and proofreading.

Content editing includes aspects of novel writing in which you work on developing the story line, the characters, both internal and external dialogue, maintaining point of view, developing the scenes, and tighten up the action. It also includes developing pace.

Line editing includes aspects of novel writing in which you work on paragraph and sentence flow and do final fact checking.

Proofreading should be done last. It doesn’t hurt to do regular spell/grammar checking using a built-in computer program after each editing session, but it’s not wise to spend more than a couple minutes every day at the end of each session over what you edited that day.

It’s important to start editing in the proper order. It would be foolish to proofread at the beginning of the editing process because more than likely you’ll be wasting your time. Imagine proofreading huge passages and deciding later that you want to get rid of that entire section of text. By proofreading too early in the process, you will have potentially wasted hours of valuable time that you could have spent working on improving the rest of the book.

Now that you know editing order, let’s get started.

The First Step in the Editing Process

The first step in the content editing process is to read through your manuscript. However, if you wrote your manuscript on paper rather than on a computer, your manuscript should first be typed out on a computer document before continuing the editing process.

You may want to print out your first draft onto paper, so you can read it more easily as you highlight. I never do this. Instead, I change fonts and font size to give me a different perspective. I like to use “Arial” because it is more like a handwritten manuscript, and it is easier to read.

Just read through the first time, making notes of obvious errors that you see as you’re reading so that you can fix them later.

After you have read through the manuscript this first time, look for the main story line and highlight it in yellow.

Read it again and do the same with other secondary story lines and highlight those as well, but in different colors. Note what story line goes with what color and write a brief description on this chart about each story line. You may need to read through the manuscript several more times before you find all your story lines.

This step is important because in the upcoming weeks, we will be revisiting each of these story lines to evaluate the storyline to determine its value to the overall story, its ARC, character ARCs and scene ARCs. Next week we will be discussing story ARCs and how important they are toward constructing a cohesive novel with no major story content errors. If you locate all the story lines that you have created within your novel this week, you’ll have a good start to your editing process and will be ready to quickly develop your story’s ARCs next week.

Get Your Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist

This is the first post in a series of blog posts about how to edit your novel. If you have a first draft that you would love to publish this year, be sure to pick up a copy of my novel editing checklist and if you haven’t already, sign up to make sure that you never miss a post of this editing series.

FREE COMPREHENSIVE NOVEL EDITING CHECKLIST WITH SUBSCRIPTION TO THIS BLOG


fireworks“Be the Change you want to see.” Gandhi.

If you want to make some major changes this year, the most important thing to realize is that you can’t do it all at once. However, just because this is true, it doesn’t mean that you can’t make amazing and valuable changes this year.

I have made several permanent changes that I wanted to make in my life. I wanted to quit smoking. I did. I wanted to live a healthier lifestyle. I am living one. I wanted to have a cleaner house. My house looks pretty good. I wanted to get my bachelor’s degree. I have it. I wanted to finally write the book that had been in my head since I was in the seventh grade. I have written eleven and have several more in the works. I have done all these things all because I learned the power of the habit. Currently my goal is to start a publishing business. That is currently in the works.

Here are a few things that I learned about the process:

1. Don’t try to change everything all at once. I learned that I couldn’t make all the changes all at once. Yes, I had numerous things that I wanted to do in my life, but I couldn’t do it all at once. I had to choose which one to start first. I chose to work on cleaning and organizing my house.

2. How do you eat an elephant? Take your one change and make it bite size. I have learned that I cannot do everything at once, no matter how hard I try. I had tried to do it numerous times with the same negative results. I had decided that I wanted to keep my house on a higher level of clean so I would clean the entire house all at once only to be too tired to keep up the maintenance.

What worked better was that instead of doing it all at once, I decided to focus on what was most important and do that first. I decided that the best place to start was in cleaning my house. I chose picking up around the house (one room at a time), doing laundry (one step at a time which only took five minutes or less) and doing dishes (right after the meal).

3. Take the same bite size every day. I keep the dishes, laundry and picking up done every day. There isn’t much to do because I do it every day.

4. After a month, build up on that one bite. Once I had control of the laundry, dishes and picking up, I moved on from there. I threw out stuff. I organized stuff. I did deep cleaning. A few minutes every day.

5. Determine to get up the eighth time- Never make the excuse to stop trying. Did I always keep it all up? Of course not. I had bad days, but as Edison said, “It doesn’t matter if you fall down seven times as long as you get up the eighth time.”

6. I am going to over deliver here by giving you a sixth resolution that will help you never fail at another resolution! Resolve to pick up and read my book and learn about the one habit that will help you create all your other habits and reach all your goals. Get The Ultimate Keystone Habit by following this link to reserve your copy now.

What’s Coming Next Week?

One of my own resolutions this next year is to build the editing aspect of my business and help other authors improve the editing process of their books. Each week I will go step by step through the editing process. My goal is to teach anyone, including novices, how to navigate the editing process like a pro.

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