Last week I received the edits back on my third book, FALL INTO YOU, from my editor. Those emails are always a little scary to open. You pretty much say the "please don't hate it, please don't hate it" prayer a few times before you click.
And so far, I've been pretty lucky. My edits for the previous books have been relatively minor (though CRASH went through a pretty major edit with my dear agent before we sold it.) But this time I had a feeling it was going to be bigger stuff. Mainly because this is the book I struggled with at the beginning of the year (and was late on deadline with.) I *knew* something wasn't quite right but I was too deep in it to be able to see what that something was. And that's why we thank the writing gods for a fabulous editor.
So what did my lovely editor have to say? Basically--I love this story. It's fabulous...after I get through the first third. The first part is slow and you need to figure out how to get to this, this, and that faster. Get rid of stuff.
There were some other things--making my heroine more sympathetic, building more chemistry early on, etc. But the major issue seemed to be PACING.
And pacing is one of those things that can be really overwhelming to look at because it's such a big picture thing--the pacing of an entire story arc. Most of my problem is that I keep insisting on putting in suspense subplots, which trips me up because I have to plant information and set up things for that AND the romance, which can bog down a beginning.
So when I got these edits, I had a week to fix everything, rewrite a good portion of the beginning, and get my pacing in check. After eating some chocolate and a few deep breaths, I sat down to tackle the issues. How was i going to figure out where the pacing had gone awry?
Well, as most of you know if you follow this blog, I'm a Save the Cat fan when it comes to story structure. I find screenplay structures make sense to me. So I took out my Save the Cat Beat sheet and looked at the turning points. The nice thing about the Beat Sheet is it gives you page numbers for where this turning point should happen in a 110-pg. screenplay. (To apply these numbers to a novel, either multiply by 3 since most novels are around 300-350 pages or just use them as percentages.)
When I did this, it was so much more clear on where I had flubbed up. My set-up was on track (roughly first 10%), and my Catalyst/Call To Action was in the right spot, but then my Debate section (where the character has to decide whether to DO something about that call to action) was way too long. My Break Into Act Two (where the character enters the new world) was pushed back way too late because of it. Act 2 was where my editor started liking the book.
So I cut out an entire chapter and rewrote most of two more, getting my break into two back in the right spot. Seeing it on paper with that simple structure made it so much easier to see (though it doesn't necessarily make fixing it any easier, lol.) I turned in the revisions this week and hopefully what I changed works out.
But if you find yourself struggling with pacing or have this vague feeling that something just isn't quite working, it may benefit you to take out your favorite story structure and lay it over your novel like a blueprint to see if things are happening where they are supposed to be.
And if you've never looked at an overarching structure like that, here are some of my favorite books about structure:
1.Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need by Blake Snyder
(are you tired of hearing about my love for this book yet?)
2. Writing Love: Screenwriting Tricks for Authors II by Alexandra Sokoloff
(Alexandra gives a more detailed structure that can be super helpful if you're not sure what should go in between some of those beats from Save the Cat.)
(I don't actually have this book, but I attended his workshop and that's where I first discovered the screenwriting techniques for novels. I still use my notes from that workshop with every book.)
(My one structure book that is not screenwriting based. :) You can't go wrong with James Scott Bell.)
So have you ever had issues with pacing? Do you use any kind of formal story structure when writing or revising your novels? What are some of your favorite craft books on structure?