Structural Editing

This week I received an editorial report from Penguin for my upcoming novel Brumby’s Run. It looks at the ‘big picture’ stuff, targeting characterisation, pacing and plot, and it requires me to complete a minor redraft. For new writers, the editing process is a mysterious right of passage between submission and publication – secret author’s business, and I’d been eager to discover just what it involves. My wonderful editor feels ‘sure that with a little teasing out of the existing narrative, we’ll discover a new level of richness.’ Considering her intimate knowledge of the story, I’m sure she’s right. Seriously, she understands it better than I do. It was like she’d been sitting over my shoulder … like she’d been there when I was lazy, or in a hurry. She’d picked up on it every time.

The report contained no directions, only questions and suggestions. And there are plenty of those! I began to discover what a complicated and multi layered task lay before me. When you weave a new thread into the beginning of a narrative, it affects things all the way through – like going back in time changes history.

The first day I was paralysed. The next day I wrote an extra two thousand words and then deleted them.  But today, after reading the notes a hundred times, and reducing them to their essence in a dot point document … today I wrote a new chapter that I think addresses lots of the very legitimate issues raised. I’m getting a handle on the job ahead. Structural editing is widely considered to be the foundation of quality publishing, and I’m beginning to see why.

6 thoughts on “Structural Editing

  1. I LOVE editorial reports- my first one was the most amazing writing experience I’ve ever gone through. It’s amazing how just a few questions can spark your imagination and send you in a whole new direction! They ARE scary when you first open them and can feel very overwhelming but like you’ve said- after a day or so when you re-read all the suggestions it loses some of it’s ‘scary’ and I think it becomes ‘exciting’. Can’t wait to read your book when it comes out Jennifer. You’ll be fine with your edits- enjoy the experience!

  2. Hi Karly,
    Thanks so much for this comment. It’s wonderful to get the perspective of somebody who’s already gone through the process – and loved it no less! I’m not quite at the ‘loving it’ stage yet, but I’m certainly past the ‘scary’ stage. And I’m imagining the tremendous feeling of accomplishment that will be mine when I finish. The book needs this.
    Once again, thanks Karly

  3. Hi Jennifer et al.,
    I haven’t published any fiction so I haven’t had that experience yet but I did technical writing for years and structural editing is a huge part of that. It not only tightens up the whole narrative, it also helps to clarify what you’re actually trying to say.
    With my fiction writing I’ve started putting a timeline entry at the beginning of each raw chapter and scene to make it easier to get a global overview of the story and all the plot-lines. It also makes it easier to zoom in on particular sections that need to be moved, re-written or deleted altogether.
    It’s hard work but well worth it in the end. Enjoy and thanks for a great post.

    • Thanks for this. What a good idea re the chapters! I’d already completed chapter summaries, which has helped, but there’s still nothing quite like spending hours immersed in the manuscript. It’s that global overview we’re after, isn’t it? The ability to hold the story in one hand.

  4. Jen – I’m taking heed of your experience. I remember M’s experience was similiar. Overwhelm, panic, attempts at fixing, reflection, absorption, understanding, grasping what needs to be done. It’s such a privilege to have someone who cares about the m/s to give detailed input. Good luck with the rewrites. Can’t wait to see the end result. xxx

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