Welcome to Week 4 – the self-editing week.
This can be one of the most dreaded parts of the writing process, and for good reason – nobody wants to kill those darlings.
This isn’t always the case. Some writers LOVE to edit, and you might be one of those. If you are – AWESOME! If you’re not – that’s ok too – you’re in good company.
I personally don’t mind editing, but I find editing longer works to be daunting. Editing something short, like my WIM draft, that’s pretty fun – though time-consuming.
Either way – editing is where the magic happens. Every experienced writer will tell you this, and it’s true. No first draft is 100% perfect, and most of them are dumpster fires. So at some point, if you want to get better, you need to become at least decent at self-editing.
So how do you become good at self-editing?
The first step is becoming decent at STORY ANALYSIS. This is what this post focuses on. How to analyze your story to make sure that it’s working on a basic story structure level.
My book on Wattpad, The Perfect Story: A Book on Story Craft & Editing, has been my attempt to document my journey of understanding story structure, analyzing stories, and applying those techniques to my own stories as I draft and edit them. For this draft, I used a variety of analysis tools to look at developmental edits before I did any line editing.
Above are my initial sketched out analysis notes. In my experience – which is also illustrated with examples in The Perfect Story – the best, most time enduring stories are those which when analyzed by multiple methods have a structure that holds up when put to the test by as many different structure methods as possible. Pride and Prejudice is one such story. It is amazingly well constructed.
Since I optimally want my stories to be as good as P&P, I apply the same analysis to my drafts.
9-Grid Plot Plan
This type of analysis I first found in a twitter post referencing Editor Cassandra’s blog. I thought it looked like an awesome thing to try. As with most outlining or analysis tools, I find it almost impossible to use them before I begin to draft – but they’re intensely helpful afterward to make sure my story is working – or to highlight the places it’s not.
This was my sketched out 9-grid plot plan. I grabbed some themes for the top to help me orient myself in where I wanted to story to go/what it’s about based on the draft. Then I filled this out and it began to generate some questions:
- What actually is the triggering event/Inciting Incident? Is it clear?
- Who do Rolf and Bob actually represent – what are their characters, and how does this affect the story?
- Who is my main character? – Bob
Below is my typed up 9-grid plot plan where I worked through some of these characterization and plot element issues.
Story Grid Story Element Analysis
Next, I looked at the story elements which are outlined in Story Grid, which is a fantastic book and podcast for helping writers understand story structure and how to self-edit.
I went through the 5 elements of story structure, as well as the one I call the 6th in The Perfect Story – The Turn. You can see my notes below and the questions/ideas that this analysis generated.
- The universe is preoccupied with its survival because time/mortality is proportional to the gravitational pull of each object.
- Go from stars to cockroaches – expansive to tiny
- Originally not completely clear – must be the kick-off of the story and create the conflict, as well as lay the groundwork for the unexpected but inevitable ending.
- Maybe they’re not supposed to be scavenging alone?
- If they’re going against the rules, why?
- Perhaps Rolf isn’t satisfied with the Colony’s government/leadership. If this is the case, Rolf sows the seeds for his own demise which is a good circular end.
- Create multiple levels of conflict for a more engaging story:
- Inner – Bob’s inner morality struggle. (at crisis)
- Personal – Bob’s conflict with Rolf – first breaking the rules to go harvesting alone, and then when he doesn’t want to share with the colony.
- External – The individual v. the colony’s survival. (colony’s collectivist govt. and history of being unable to accept change or innovation – even when survival is on the line)
- Generate greater conflict with each piece of the story until the crisis/climax.
- Bob has to choose – is this a Good For Me = Bad For You, or a Best Bad Choice situation? A bit of both? Neither is the “moral” choice – at least in terms of a collectivist society, but is survival more important?
- Bob not only makes the choice to ensure his own long-term survival but takes it a step further to ensure his own family’s continuation.
- He ends up on the opposite end from where he started morally – however, perhaps the seeds of his betrayal need to be sown earlier in his character.
- Bob runs off with the food, and Rolf is left to die.
- Fade back out from tiny to expansive.
- The unforgiving universe is unphased by Rolf’s impending death and Bob’s moral corruption – as with most things, it’s too concerned with its own survival to notice.
This was a technique I was turned on to during some research – which may have also been prompted by a tweet. It’s from Randy Ingermanson’s website and is focused on the following story elements to construct large and small scale scenes.
He calls them Motivation-Reaction Units (MRUs) and they are pretty much like “beats” which make up the larger elements of “scene” and “sequel.” I recommend you check out his site for more in-depth reading on these.
You can see how I broke out the elements in the visual above, and where I attributed them in the story.
Dan Harmon’s Story Circle
His structure is based on The Hero’s Journey, but this visual is very helpful in understanding it in a way which helps me write and analyze story structure.
So how did this work with my story?
- Comfort Zone – Universe preoccupied with survival – fade to Bob and Rolf.
- Need – They need food.
- Unfamiliar Situation (search) – Bob has followed Rolf on an unsanctioned scavenging excursion.
- Adapt/Find – Bob and Rolf find the food and come up with a plan.
- Get what they want – Rolf’s plan works and they achieve their goal! but…
- At a price – Rolf doesn’t want to share, and Bob must choose between his colony, his friend, and survival of his family. (In my first draft this point was actually preceding point 5, and a helpful comment from another WIM writer on my blog post pointed this out, so in the second draft I’ve moved it to the correct point in the story, which is here)
- Return – Bob makes his choice, kills Rolf and runs off with the food.
- Having Changed – Bob has changed internally – he has gone from a rule-abiding, and loyal friend, to a selfish killer only intent on his own family’s survival – screw the colony. However, the universe as a whole remains unchanged, it is just as preoccupied as before, and doesn’t care about either Bob or Rolf.
My next post will show my actual editing – line by line – of the short story and will unveil my second draft. I hope you enjoyed this post and found it helpful for your own process!
Keep up with the other writers:
KJ Harrowick | Jen Karner | JM Jinks | HM Braverman – THAT’S ME! |Melissa Bergum | Thuy Nguyen | Kristen Howe | Sean Willson | Paulette Wiles | Talynn Lynn | Ellen Mulholland | Kathryn Hewitt | Sheri MacIntyre | Jessica Lewis | Susan Burdorf | Stephanie Whitaker | Dawn Currie | Megan Van Dyke | SKaeth | Ari Augustine | Fariha Khayyam | M. Dalto | Sheryl Stein | Belinda Grant | Coffee Quills