Thursday, 3 November 2011

The Macro Approach to Fine-Tuning a Novel

Editing a book on my floor.

If anyone has been following my twitter updates, they’ll be aware I’ve worked my way through two further drafts of my novel: The Different since finishing the first in February. My second draft was intended to tackle the narrative; making sure the slight changes to the story I’d made during the writing process made sense overall. What I ended up doing was pulling the whole thing apart and writing another twenty-thousand words. This wasn’t to bulk up the word count (I’d already hit my target in the first draft), but to create a stronger narrative sense and much needed structural continuity.

Early on I’d chosen to write three distinct story threads: the main protagonist, her father, and first person recounts of her back-story. The way these three elements worked together meant that I had to pull the novel apart to be able to edit them. The third draft has been about getting the narrative to flow as a whole, and in the last two weeks I’ve undertaken a major edit of the chapter order.
With three story threads the order has been a bugbear for me throughout, and in the end I printed out summaries of each section onto paper and laid them all out on the floor. It was incredibly helpful to see the whole story laid out this way, better than a digital flat-plan. At first I used the order from the first draft, but I quickly saw how I could insert the back-story elements in a more interesting way along with one or two changes to the other sections. By the end of the process there were only a couple of trouble areas where the order of events either conflicted with others or just didn’t hit the beats in the story in quite the way I wanted.
As these were time based, I went back to one of the methods I’d used early in the planning stage; I’d found that creating a calendar based timeline (mine was taken straight from April-July 2010) had helped in organising the order of events and I was amazed that the original timelines were still mostly relevant to the updated story. Using a timeline allowed me to quickly identify which elements I could re-order and still have a story that made sense.

Employing macro editing methods has enabled me to slot my chapters together with confidence in the knowledge they will work over the whole book. I know it is worth planning a book before writing it, but doing this again after the second or third draft has been very useful. Certainly something worth doing with any books I write in the future. Taking a step back (in my case quite literally) to look at the whole book can ensure that it not only works on a logical level, but will allow it to unfold in the best way for reading.

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