Two such wordsmiths attended my workshop last week at the Loft. Both are working on books and have learned from editors that they need to beef up their book's structure.
Why Good Structure Comes Before Wordsmithing
In early drafts, books must be more about content and structure than wordsmithing. Reason: no use decorating your house until the walls are up. Wordsmithing a poorly structure book is like try to hang draperies on framing. But what are the steps to analyze your book manuscript?
So many skilled and experienced writers, facing their first book, don't know where to start.
- In column #1 list your chapter numbers or titles.
- In column #2, jot down a few words about the main topic or conflict of each chapter. (What is this chapter about, what happens, what's the primary conflict?) I use shorthand here: "Barb meets Joe on the farm" or "first day at school." Brief is good.
- In column #3, list the primary location. If the chapter moves locations, list them all.
- In column #4, list the players. Who is in the chapter?
- The fifth column is the reader take-away. What's the reader going to get from this chapter? What's its purpose? This is the hardest one, often requiring some thought or consultation with others who can read your chapter and give you a reader point of view.
- Once you have the columns filled in, read through them. Asterisk any that either don't have a clear take-away, have more than three locations, or don't have a primary conflict. These are the ones to rethink.
- Finally, look through each of your columns separately. Do the conflicts vary enough? Are they showing a rising and falling of tension (some being small, others more dramatic)? Do the main players in your book reappear often enough so the reader won't lose track of them? Are the locations meaningful and not too plentiful (I try for no more than 5-7 locations if possible--more than that is hard to keep track of.)