It may seem counterintuitive to do the structure revision this late in the game, but I’m laboring under the assumption that when you started the story, you had at least a rudimentary idea of the structure you’d be working with. If you need to move large chunks around, you’ll usually be able to do it without terribly destroying your story. Plus, doing those other revisions first makes it easier to identify the chief elements of your story.
Also, the structure revision involves a lot of polishing work of individual chapters and scenes.
- Hold your book up to the three act Hollywood structure. You can get a lot of detail about the three act structure on Wikipedia. Basically, divide your story into three major parts and make sure the first part (act 1) introduces the characters, major plot elements, and much conflict. In the second act, there should be rising tension and complications to the conflicts introduced in the first act. The third act should contain the climax, where the tension and conflict are the highest, and then resolve the plot and major subplots.
- Check your story against the seven point story structure, as Dan Wells’ playlist will teach below. Don’t worry if it doesn’t match up perfectly, just see if there are improvements that can be made without crushing the story. The idea is not to amputate and dismantle your book, but to help you refine elements that could be strengthened and trim parts that don’t fit into the overall structure. Remember, these are guidelines, not rules.
- Check each scene: make sure each has a purpose. A scene is a situation in a particular point of view and place at a specific time. When any of those things change (POV, place, or time), it’s probably a new scene. Make each scene it’s own short story, if possible, with it’s own small arc.
If there is a major problem with the structure of your story, you may have to go back and deeply rework it. This kind of discovery is painful, but it doesn’t imply that your story is a lost cause. Go with your gut, and realize that even after all edits, your story won’t be perfect. Often, structure problems can be fixed with a rewrite of the climax or opening scene. If you do have to rewrite a huge chunk, don’t worry, with the character revision you’ve already done, it will go much better this time around.
If bad gets to worse, get a second opinion. Show a trusted writer friend your book and ask what it most needs to become workable. Sometimes a different set of eyes can see things that could make your story work with only a few minor adjustments.
Chances are, this edit will not be as brutal as the previous two edits, and if you make it through this one, you’re story has passed all the “Can this work?” filters, and has already proven that with just a little more work, it will be awesome.