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Structural Self-editing

Presentation from LDStorymakers 2014 writers conference (more on these topics: http://jordanmccollum.com/2014/04/structural-selfediting-resources/ )

Jordan McCollum

on 5 February 2016

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Transcript of Structural Self-editing

Structural Self-editing
A structural edit enables you to refine your individual scenes and guide your work on the highest level.
build strong narrative structure
create a resonant theme
craft an unputdownable story
Whether you "pantsed" or plotted to get your story out, now it's time to make sure your story has good structural integrity.

Make sure these major milestones are in place for a well-structured story.

Story Engineering by Larry Brooks
Seven-Point Story Structure (YouTube) by Dan Wells
Structuring Your Novel by KM Weiland
Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder
Macro structure: story milestones
Character arcs are the character's internal or emotional journey of learning and growth, becoming a better, stronger person who's capable of defeating the antagonistic force.

The first step of structural self-editing is to make sure the milestones of the character's internal journey are in place, especially the beginning and ending.

Anchoring the character arc
Show the character's internal situation—his mistaken belief about himself and the world that is crippling him emotionally.

Demonstrate why his internal situation must change—show how the situation is keeping him from what he truly wants/needs
Convert the belief statement into an action statement

The power of Because

Gives us the "So what?" application
Digging deeper into the theme
At the climax, because of his journey of growth, he is now strong enough to defeat the antagonistic force.

In the resolution, show how the character's internal situation has permanently changed for the better.
We begin with character arcs because they point us toward a theme. Our character's journey of internal growth often points us toward a "moral," a lesson, or a belief "proven" by the story.

A character might learn to be patient or care about others or ask for help in her character journey. This points us toward the most basic version of the theme, that patience/caring for others/asking for help is important.

Character arc to theme
The character responds to the FPP, but not yet in a proactive (or post-character-arc) way. Shock/denial—but most of all, still trying to retreat into the pre-arc state, which will no longer work.

First pinch point (37.5%)—antagonist action reader sees directly

Mid-point (50%)—Another shift in the story world (new information, false defeat, false victory), altering the readers' perspective (and maybe the characters', too).
2nd Quarter: Response
1st Quarter: Set up
The hero isn't playing the game by the antagonist's rules anymore. But things aren't going well, either. Losing allies, bad guys are closing in.

Second pinch point (62.5%)—another direct view of antagonist

Second Plot Point (75-80%)—Last major revelation, final turning point to launch the character on the correct trajectory toward ultimate victory
3rd Quarter: Attack
Finally confront the external and internal forces fighting against our hero. Answer the story question. Because of the character's growth and learning throughout the story, she's strong enough to defeat the bad guys now.
4th Quarter: Resolution
Medium structure: structuring every scene
Tool #5: The Scene Chart!
Micro structure: actions within scenes


Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain

Don't worry too much about your theme as you're writing a story—a lot of the theme is refined and even discovered in the editing process.

Taking the time to do this first helps to guide your whole story's course.
Love is strength

Because love is strength, love is worth fighting for
Hook the reader, introduce the characters and their problems (internal and external), set up story question, show the story world, establish stakes, and set up . . .

The First Plot Point (20-25% mark). Major confrontation with antagonistic force that shifts the story/stakes/character into a new gear.
Scenes require structure, too, or they'll wander aimlessly, just like stories.

Scene & Structure by Jack Bickham

Starting point: draft 1.5
Sequel structure
Scene structure





Action >> Goal
Tool #3: Macro Story Structure
List out each of the milestones in your story. Are they placed "correctly"? Are your scenes in the "right" quarter?

Fixes the sagging middle, keeps characters on their course and keeps the story moving forward.

Creates a map for the story in a few short lines, so
we can begin to dig into the actual scenes.
Tool #2:
Theme Statement
Does every scene and every character arc support this theme? If not, note the scenes and characters that may need changing (or be sure to have contradictory character arcs end badly so you don't undermine
your theme).
Tool #1: Character Arc Statement
Throughout the course of the story, my character learns/becomes _____________ in order to ultimately prevail.

This gives us a "compass" for the story, and anchors our character's internal journey.
Using scene structure in editing
Good scene structure

ensures each scene has purpose in the framework of the story
moves the story forward
advances the character's goals
gives us a framework for all revisions

Tool #6: Mastering MRUs
Even on a sentence level, we need to make sure we maintain the motivation-reaction unit. If you have a reaction, put it AFTER the stimulus. That's how it happens in real life. That's how readers can most easily understand it in reading.
“You’re such a goofball.” She stuck her tongue out at her brother before she turned to look out the window. “Ouch!” She rubbed her head where the water bottle had just hit her.

“What do you think of Anders’s sister? Do you think his mom’s lost her marbles for sending her here?”
“She’s okay, I guess.” I pursed my lips. A great choice, no, but we didn’t have many alternatives.

She gasped as she saw the gaping wound.

Stumbling across the sand, she tripped.

“You’re such a goofball.” She stuck her tongue out at her brother before she turned to look out the window. Something hard hit the back of her head. “Ouch!” She rubbed her head, whirling around in time to see a water bottle bouncing over the floor.

“What do you think of Anders’s sister?”
“She’s okay, I guess.”
“Do you think his mom’s lost her marbles for sending her here?”
I pursed my lips. A great choice, no, but we didn’t have many alternatives.

A gaping wound slashed across his arm. Monica gasped at the sight.

She stumbled across the sand, tripping every other step.
She tripped, stumbling across the sand.

Revision >> Re-envision
after we've got the MAJOR first draft kinks worked out
before we polish the prose
My character learns/becomes (lesson).

Because (lesson), (so what?)
Top 10 Structural Problems
Theme is missing/diffuse
Ending doesn't match the beginning
Events are misplaced or don't belong at all
Plot or specific scenes are repetitive
Plot's overwrought
Characters are dragged around by plot
Plot has holes
Pacing is off
Subplot takes over the story
Secondary characters hijack the story
Story shape
Once you've got milestones in place, we need to assess the story's overall "shape."

This is especially helpful if your pacing doesn't seem quite right, or your plot seems overwrought.
Tool #4: Story Map
Full transcript