The Art of #Writing–Audit Your Novel’s #StoryStructure

Over typed keyboard
Over typed keyboard
You’ve sweated, plotted and struck the nubs of your fingers into your keyboard enough times to wear indentations into the keys. The first draft is in your hands. What do you do now?

You fix it.

Even best selling authors have to repair their story structure. Kevin Hearn gives a nice accounting about the process between his editor and him. But you, I’m going to guess, don’t have an editor, at least not a developmental editor, because those puppies are expensive, so it’s a DYI exercise.

You: Hey, I’m a spiffy writer and nothing is wrong with my pretty baby.

Here is the dividing line between an amateur writer and a professional one (at least in intent)–you are willing to tear apart your work ruthlessly in order to make it better. There is no emotion involved in this except the “aw shucks” when you have to kill one of your darlings, or cut a character or scene you love but doesn’t add to the story.

So how are you going to do this?

You will conduct a story audit.

You: Audit? Wait, Isn’t that something accountants do? I’m a writer, not an accountant, Jim.

First off, my name isn’t Jim. Second, you watch too much Star Trek. Third, I’m not putting words into your mouth. You were thinking this all along. Fourth, yes. You will cold-heartedly analyze your writing against proven plot templates to see if your plot holds water and will sweep your readers into the world you painstakingly created.

But hey, (raises hands and backs away) if you are so brilliant that you are sure that you don’t need this exercise, and your manuscript is in the hands of an editor or agent who is going to sell your work, gosh darn-it, and no further work is needed by you, (laughs quietly to self) then stop right here. But if not, let me ask you a question.

How’s the whole writing thing working for you? You got it right it yet? Is there anything you need to improve?

I’ll clue you in on a little secret. In the past two two years I’ve written (and sold) over a half million words to my ghostwriting clients. And I’ve tracked the sales and read the reviews (shame on me) and I listened to what they were saying. I’ve worked with some demanding clients too, where I was on the verge of tearing out my thinning hair, but I’ve learned, I’ve learned, oh boy, I’ve learned where I could go oh-so-wrong in what otherwise seems like an exciting plot.

So I’m not talking out of my nether regions here.

We can all improve. Every single one of us.

So what tools do you need for this audit?

First I recommend reading this blog article by C. S. Lakin to get you started. Then you open two things. Your Scrivener (or other) version of your novel and this free Excel template to which you will make revisions as necessary.

Five Part Novel Template With Turning Points
Five Part Novel Template With Turning Points

This template is based on the five-part story structure that I wrote about in The Art of #Writing: #Plotting and #Pacing Using #Scrivener. In the template, I marked where the ten key plot points should hit roughly in the storyline of your book. There’s room for flexibility, but not much.

Get To Work

1.) Count your chapters and divide by five. Add lines to the template dividing the number of chapter lines you need by five. Say you have thirty chapters, there are twenty-five on the template, add one line per section. Also, subtract should you need, as well.

2.) Note your word count, divide by your number of chapters. This is your target word count per chapter.

3.) List your chapters and word count for each and other relevant points into the template. Ignore for now the column that marks the key points.

Now take a look at what you filled in. Does your plot hit the keys scenes at about the same place as the template? Yes? Pat yourself on the back. No? You have some work to do. Check your POV characters if you have more than one. Is each character equally represented through the story? Yes? Give yourself another pat on the back. No? Then your story is missing some narrative. Hint, if your POV character dominates only a few chapters, then perhaps you need to shift that POV to another, stronger character. Is your word count consistent, not necessarily chapter by chapter but at least section by section? Yes. Good job. No? Time to start evaluating scenes and adding and cut as necessary.

Oh, I know this is painful. Terribly so. I just audited a major work in progress I #amwriting, sighed and listened to my own advice. After torturous cutting and editing scenes I have a story structure that will carry the novel just as it should. And pieces of the book that got cut will go in it separate novella.

All I need to do is the rewrites. (Covers face with hands.)

After going through this exercise you’ll have a new appreciation for plotting and may save yourself some trouble by using a template like this when plotting your novel.

Until next time–happy writing~ 🙂

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