Editing Challenge Day 12: Bake a Cake

The Blairzone - 10

This is a new part of my 30-Day Editing Challenge. Start at the beginning or find other days here.

Sometimes I tell my students that writing a novel — or a good story, for that matter — is like baking a cake. The thing about cake is that it is a very rich and delicious material, but very soft and fragile. Cupcakes or simple layer cakes are all well and good. But once you start getting into advanced cake-making — a wedding cake, some elaborate cake sculpture — you discover that cake alone will not work. The cake is so soft that if you stack too much of it, it will begin to collapse under its own weight. You have to start putting in wooden struts or PVC pipe to hold up the cake; otherwise, it’s like an animal with no internal skeleton. There’s a reason insects and other creatures with exoskeletons have to stay fairly small.

So today, we’re going to examine the internal structure of your story, and make sure it has a sturdy enough inner construction. First, take a look at your hard copy, preferably two-up to a page so you can wrap your head around the thing more easily. Then notice what internal structure it seems to have. Are there short sections, each one at a different time of day? Is there a repeating theme or motif of time or space? Are we contained within a single or a single week or a single year? Is every section building to the winning shot of the big game, or are we alternating between his and hers versions of events?

Try to pin down the structure you had in mind. If it’s a first draft, chances are you will have a vague and fuzzy sense of internal structure, but you won’t have applied it consistently throughout. I remember one story I wrote about a high school writing teacher; I had the thought that it would be cool to start some sections with imagined writing prompts, but I didn’t follow through, throwing them in haphazardly instead. Just by applying the writing prompts consistently in the story, my piece suddenly felt organized; it felt like it had meaning and purpose as a document.

Is there a central structure you can wedge in there to hold your story up? What if it was in the form of an interview, or letters, or as a statement to a judge? What if we re-visited the same couple every two years? What if…? You’ll have to figure out what structure suits the story you’re trying to tell. But if you do use something, you’ll notice that your ideas will seem more focused. The scenes you’ve pulled together will be united and driving toward a common goal.

Ready to take your writing to the next level? Consider my professional manuscript consulting at editorial.blairhurley.com.

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