• eemontgomery11

Step-by-step guide to a major structural edit. Step 4: personalise your structure, create an outline

What is it about your story that makes it stand out from others? Make this individuality shine through from the bones – the structure. The three-act (or five- or seven-act) structure is a norm. How can you bring the personality of your story into the structure so that your story is startlingly different to others, while still retaining that comforting rhythm readers need.

You have the bones sorted, now you need to identify where you can add your personal touches to make it individual. That’s where the outline comes in.


Step 4: personalise your structure, create an outline

If your MS is a massive mess like Opal Tears is, you might not be able to create the narrative outline without actually editing some of the big things in the book. Open your MS and work from your structure outline to cut and move things that have to be done for the bones of the structure to show through. I don’t recommend working on the character arcs at this stage no matter how tempting it is. Some things to keep in mind:

  1. Keep your focus on the structure. You’ll be able to do more defined and refined editing during the next step.

  2. The outline doesn’t have to be a chapter-by-chapter outline. Keep the three Acts and two Transitions in place but your outline can highlight the individuality of your story. My outline for Opal Tears focuses on individual stanzas of the second part of the Warrior Pledge. Each stanza is treated as one part of the outline. This could be one chapter or five.

  3. How are you personalising the structure? With Opal Tears, the structure personalisation comes in the form of the Warrior Pledge prophesy, specifically the second part of it. The prophesy defines the plot points within the structure. With Opal Tears, the Transition at the end of Act 1 coincides with the end of one stanza. The next stanza provides a different direction for the tale to proceed after the transition calls everything into question.

  4. During this process, I edited as I wrote the outline. I knew what the structure had to be and what had to happen in each section of the book. I had scenes written (you might not have written the scenes yet, depending on how you work) that I could move around, delete and change to fit with the structure. My process was:

  5. Write each prophesy stanza at the top of a page labelled “chapter”.

  6. Read each scene. If it was one I’d marked for moving, removing or editing, I did that. The edits I did were big edits like changing the POV character. I didn’t worry too much about character development except where the character’s actions impact on the overall structure because the next edit run is a character arc focus.

  7. For each chapter, I wrote the outline of action. I grouped the chapters under the related prophesy stanza so that, as I wrote, it became clear how the story responded to the stanza and how the stanza related to the story. Any parts of the story that didn’t relate, I either moved, deleted or reworded so that it did.

By the end of this process, your story should be feeling pretty good. Structurally, it’s nearly there.


Next time, we’ll be looking at what the closer edit entails, and I’ll give you some ideas on how to streamline that process.



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