Structural Editing: How your story unfolds
Our February nonfiction know-how is all about editing – from the highest level of story concept all the way down to the most specific level of individual word choice. Last week I wrote about developmental editing, the process of narrowing your story idea to one literary conflict appropriate for a 1000-word essay. This week we move to structural editing and look at how you are telling that story you’ve so carefully pruned down. Structural editing is all about focusing on the order in which events unfold.
That structure will vary depending on the type of essay you are writing. If you’re writing a plot-based story, you’ll want a more traditional dramatic arc like you’d find in a three act play, with a killer narrative hook that immediately draws your reader into your literary conflict, then rising action where your main character (typically you) faces obstacles so that the story grows in tension until you reach the climax, or turning point at which we learn whether the main character failed, succeeded, or was otherwise transformed. Follow that up with falling action where you tie up loose ends so that by the time the resolution rolls around, you’ve reached equilibrium again. You can do all that in 1000 words or less if you are adroit with your character development and setting and weave in backstory and exposition only as needed to fill in the outlines of your conflict for your reader. Dramatic structure doesn’t require you to tell your story chronologically – but it does require you to consider thoughtfully where you begin and end your story and what details you include. Structural editing is all about making sure that your story keeps flowing forward seamlessly and that every sentence is in service of your plot.
Now, not all the essays we encounter on the nonfiction grid are plot- or scene-based. For other types of personal essays, you’ll want to consider a different type of structure. I like to call this structure the “arc of epiphany.” This type of structure works when you want to ruminate a little more about a topic—while still maintaining a literary conflict and not going full-on diary post on your readers. For this structure, typically you frame your ruminations with story, beginning with an inciting incident that made you feel super-reflective, leading toward some kind of epiphany where you change or grow, and culminating in a resolution that outlines the new you based on your reaction to this incident.
So for this week’s grid, figure out first which type of essay you’re writing, then figure out how best to tell it. Which structure suits your meaning and message? How are you shifting between scenes and time frames? How are you filling in any needed backstory? How are you ratcheting up tension? What’s your climax or epiphany? Do you tie up loose ends by the finish line? Answer these questions and you’ll have gone a long way toward completing a comprehensive structural edit of your piece. Your story will have more impact once you undertake that process.
Yeah write super challenge
The second round of super challenge #3 is currently underway! Good luck to all of our participants as they await the results! Did you miss out on registration? Sign up for our email blast so you don’t miss out on any announcements.
This month’s nonfiction know-how is a little bit of a throwback. We’ve spent a lot of time lately talking about how to get writing that appeals to your audience onto the page; for Valentine’s Day we’re going to remind you how to show your writing a little additional love. Editing. It’s a task that makes the best of us cringe. We’ve talked about it before, and this month Cindy and Rowan are going to walk you through some specifics with the nonfiction posts and roundups. So what is editing, anyway, and how is it different from writing? Learn more from Rowan here.
Want more info?
Is this your first time here? Check out Sunday’s post which kicked off the week here at yeah write. Our email subscribers can also join us in the yeah write coffeehouse at its home on Facebook. If you’ve never taken the time to read them, please take a moment to familiarize yourself with our submission guidelines. The rules are a little different for each of our challenges and we’d hate to have to send back great writing on a technicality.
Did you happen to end up here because you suddenly saw yeah write in your stats? Sometimes members of our community spot excellent writing and they send those posts on over to us. We hope you don’t mind. Take a look around and get to know our community. We’re sure you’ll be happy here.
How to submit and fully participate in the challenge
Basic yeah write guidelines: 1000 word limit; your entry can be dated no earlier than this past Sunday; nonfiction personal essay, creative opinion piece or mostly true story based on actual events.
1. In the sidebar of this week’s post, please grab the code beneath the nonfiction badge and paste it into the HTML view of your entry
2. Follow the Inlinkz instructions after clicking “add your link” to upload your entry to this week’s challenge grid
3. Your entry should appear immediately on the grid if you don’t receive an error message
4. Please make the rounds to read all the entries in this week’s challenge
5. Consider turning off moderated comments and CAPTCHA on your own blog
Submissions for this week’s challenges will close on Wednesday at 10pm ET. Voting will then open immediately thereafter and close on Thursday at 10pm ET. The winners, as always, will be celebrated on Friday.
Thank you for sharing with us your hard work! Good luck in the challenge…