By Claire Booth
I’m at the editing stage of my latest novel. It’s one of my
favorite parts of the process. I love working on the word flow, and the
phrasing, and the rhythm of things. I make sure I’ve adhered to the three-act
structure—which I’ve been doing all along, actually. I don’t think you can have
a book written and then shoehorn it into the three-act structure.* But once the
whole thing is done, I can make sure that I’m hitting all of my beats as part
of a whole piece—instead of one at a time.
I generally know where the problems are. It’s just a matter of
figuring out how to fix them. For instance, right now I’m going back and
seeding more information throughout the book about one particular character who
turned out to be a bigger suspect than I’d first planned. And I’ve flip-flopped
in different chapters about whether one fact is tied to another fact. I need to
decide—yes or no?
Part of all this involves the really painful step of getting rid
of things you love. Whether it’s a character, or a scene, or even just a
paragraph (I just deleted one with a great joke about breakfast cereal; trust me,
it was brilliant). Sometimes stuff just doesn’t fit, even if it’s great. Get rid
of it. Kill your darlings.
Once this is done, I’ll hand the manuscript off to a few people who
are kind enough to tear it apart for me. These beta readers tell me if anything
is confusing, unnecessary, too wordy, or anything else that detracts from the
high quality that I’m aiming for. They’re worth their weight in gold (which is
a cliché I hope they would smack me for, if I used it in a book).
*Essentially, this is one-quarter of the book (Act I), then a turning point, then half of the book (Act II), then another turning point, then the last quarter of the book (Act III). There’s a lot more to it—one of the best guides is Alexandra Sokoloff’s Screenwriting Tricks for Authors.
And just been thinking about that three-act structure myself... Glad to see the mention!
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