Basic Structural Editing Tips

by Nicole Trilivas

Editing has always been my not-so-favorite part of the writing process. I can copy-edit: pick better verbs, arrange commas differently, cut and paste sentences, but overall structural edits never come easy to me. As I’m in the midst of reworking my fourth book, and I daresay I’ve gotten a bit better. Here are some tips I noticed myself repeating:

Break the chapter with a cliffhanger: When I say cliffhanger it doesn’t have to be something huge, like say, a guy dangling from the side of the cliff about to fall while the villain stands over him; instead, it can be as simple as breaking the chapter with an unanswered question. I realized that I love to end scenes in a neat little bow of chapters, but this gives no pacing, urgency, or suspense to the story. By cutting chapters mid-action, you’re compelling your reader to forge on.

Create a new doc: Editing is scary to me because sometimes I try out a new plot line or take my character in a new direction and it just doesn’t work. To free myself to try out these directions, I duplicate my doc, give it a new version number, and plow on. Then if it doesn’t work, I just revert to the last version.

Underscore how and when your protagonist changed: My protagonist must change from the beginning to end. I must make it obvious that they have changed by the end of the book. Make sure that they experience a turning point–this point should be special and dramatic.

Question Motives: Why does a character want something so badly? If it’s not obvious or if it’s a weak reason, sort that out with more fleshed out motives and details.

Push It: So I was watching those Twilight movies yesterday (my bf made me, swear it), regardless, I’m glad I did because I learned a nice plot lesson: Bella doesn’t get sick when she’s pregnant, she practically dies. Jacob doesn’t debate, he turns into a wolf and bites people. The dad doesn’t fad into the background, he finds out a supernatural world exist. Twilight pushes the drama! And sure it’s sensational, but that makes for an exiting story. Push it. Take your story to the very edge. Then push a little more.

This came up when I googled "cliff hanger." Aescher Hotel in Appenzellerland , Switzerland. (I mean, I wasn't going to put a picture from Twilight here.)

This came up when I googled “cliff hanger.” Aescher Hotel in Appenzellerland , Switzerland. (I mean, I wasn’t going to put a picture from Twilight here.)