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Time to Edit Your First Draft

Last week we discussed how to plot out the main story ARC. If you haven’t read it yet, check it out now by clicking here. Dramatic structure in successful novels don’t unfold in one single, grand ARC. Fiction is rich with story lines that lead readers down the road and around the bend and over the rainbow. This week we will be discussing subplot and secondary story ARCs and how they can enrich your story.

Plots entwine readers in the lives and adventures of characters they’ve just met and characters they know well. Good plots snare readers from page one. They make it impossible for readers to turn away, impossible to keep from following characters through the most troubling periods of their lives.

Impossible to put the books down. That’s where subplots make the difference 

Subplots

Several smaller sequences of rising and falling action within the larger story develop themes and secondary characters. If your book is part of a series, you’ll likely combine multiple arcs to sustain interest and tension within a larger, overarching plot arc.

Even if you’re not writing a series, creating smaller arcs within your main dramatic arc has multiple benefits. First, you’ll have other sources of tension and interest during your story where primary conflicts move to the background. These smaller ARCs help you develop your characters and central themes. Smaller arcs supply additional stake and add tension. For example, you can develop the secondary relationships for the characters that make the primary plot even more powerful.

Make Your Story’s Middle Fluctuate more to Sustain Interest

A common problem in many novice novels is a sagging middle of the story that loses momentum. Don’t cause your reader to wander off, never to return. Instead, create more drama in the middle that sustains your reader’s interest.

One of my favorite ways to shake up the middle is to ask myself: What’s the worst thing that could happen here and then make it happen. That can often be done with a subplot.

What is a sub-plot?

A sub-plot is simply a secondary story line. It could be a love story in a mystery or suspense novel, a child’s death and its fallout or a business dilemma and its ramifications in any style of story, or even a health issue dealt with by one of the major characters.

A love story between secondary characters is a popular sub-plot in some contemporary romances.

Sub-plots are used to give depth to characters. They allow characters to have interests other than the singular one dealt with in the major plot. They are a way to reveal more of a character’s personality.

Sub-plots are also a way to distract characters from their stated course, a method for keeping them off balance when all their attention should be focused on the main problem.

Secondary plots are great for piling on problems. You want to make a character feel overwhelmed and overburdened? Add another problem through a sub-plot.

Think distraction, diversion, unbearable weight. Think of the character who’s already at the breaking point with one issue now having to face another heart-breaking or life-altering issue. Or maybe it’s not an issue that’s of major importance to him, but one that is important to someone he loves.

How does a character handle someone else’s life and death issue?

Adding an emotion-charged sub-plot works well to tie your characters in knots, change their way of thinking, push them into risks.

Look for a way to add not only a different level of problem, but a different type of problem.

Give a character a physical or emotional dilemma if the major plot line deals with a psychological problem. Attack your character’s family or his home, his health, his friends.

Challenge his dreams or career goals.

Twist the knife. Make him choose between fixing one problem and pursuing the other.

Beware the Subplot Take-over

However, never forget that your main plot should carry the story’s focus.

Don’t give your secondary plots more dynamic words or more dashing events than the main plot. Don’t give them more page space and emphasis. Don’t involve more characters in a side plot than the main one.

Don’t make a sub-plot’s climax and resolution more exciting than the one for your main story line.

Sub-plots don’t have to affect protagonist or antagonist directly. A sub-plot touches the main story, but it doesn’t always require direct action on the part of the main character or his antagonist.

Avoid Digression (Most of the Time)

Literary digression is a deliberate ploy of writers to steer story away from the main plot. One of its uses in the past was to add explanations or to allow the writer to delve into the history or purpose of some element they included in the story. Digression is the writer showing off his knowledge and what he learned while researching his book.

Digression definitely stops the forward motion of a story and reminds readers they are reading something that never happened. It pulls them out of the events you so carefully arranged and crafted to seem real.

However, digression can be used in a positive way. You can create little rabbit trails and small offshoots of the main story.

These digressions are not as fully integrated into the story as a sub-plot. Nor are they as complex. A good use of a digression might include a line or two of commentary.

However, like chocolate sprinkles, a little bit goes a long way. A digression can be added into the main story line with little notice by the reader. Little notice, that is, that the digression really has no true part in the unfolding plot.

Picture digressions not so much as plots or sub-plots but as author asides.

If you’re writing a mystery where you might want to mislead the reader, a digression—on the short term—can be good. On the long term can be a problem for the reader. A reader should never be aware that the author intruded with a digression. Digressions, if noticed, break down the wall between fiction and the real world.

Sub-plots must have a Purpose

They should have meaning for the story and the characters without becoming the major focus.

Sub-plots should, like every other element in story, work to advance the main plot, reveal character, and/or increase conflict. They can also stir reader emotion or affect tone.

They must work to advance the main plot.

Like main plots, sub-plots need beginning points, high moments, climaxes, and resolutions. They need their own ARC.

Don’t Leave a Sub-Plot Hanging

Don’t leave sub-plots dangling—unless you plan to complete them in another book. And if you do, make sure readers know that’s in the plan.

You might forget you’ve left a sub-plot without resolution, but your readers won’t. That’s why diagraming your sub-plots are as important as diagraming the main plot.

Subplots Must Enhance Your Story

Sub-plots can cure a flat story and keep the story full. It helps characters become multi-dimensional. (More about character development next week). Sub-plots can pile on the problems for the main character and can set up characters for a multi-book series. Sub-plots can also distract characters and readers so that they don’t catch on too quickly.

However, they can also distract from the main storyline and be more fascinating than the main story and take over. They can turn the reader’s focus to relatively unimportant events or characters.

They can also be unresolved and leave the readers dissatisfied. Sub-plots can also be too cliched and boring and dilute the impact of the main plot. A sub-plot might even pull the reader away from the fiction if the sub-plot doesn’t fit the main plot or the style or tone of the rest of the story.

Use sub-plots to create layers and depth to enhance your fiction and make your characters seem more real. By giving characters multiple plot lines, they will be more like the rest of us.

Modern fiction doesn’t make much use of true literary digression, but a momentary digression here or there might work for your stories. If, however, you intend to keep readers immersed in the fiction, stay away from digressions.

Write engrossing plots and use sub-plots to your benefit. Save your fascinating research for your blog or nonfiction article.

Though we started our editing process with the story line, the emphasis of your story may be character driven rather than plot driven, and next week we will be diving into getting to know our characters better.

Readers come for the characters, to see how they’ll overcome the obstacles of their lives. Or, viewed from the other side, they come for a plot that entertains, one that influences character behavior and thought. A story that changes a character’s life. As this process continues, you’ll have to determine (if you haven’t already) how you want your story driven. Next week we discuss developing our characters.

This week, flesh out and compare your subplots to your main plot. Do they enhance your main storyline or are they too much? Do they help improve what would be a saggy middle? Do they come to a satisfying end or do you leave the audience hanging? If you do leave it hanging, is it a set up for a sequel and how will you let the audience know? Are there any obvious digressions that need to be amended? How will you amend them?

Get Your FREE 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


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

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