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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Conference Recap--Structural Self-Editing

LDStorymakers 2014 Writer's Conference Recap

Jordan McCollum writes "mysteries to fall in love with, romance to keep you in suspense." She taught a speed class on self-editing. And I do mean speedy! It was hard to keep up she was moving so fast. This will be a summary of my notes from her class. Hopefully they will make sense. You can view the presentation slides on her blog HERE. The "tools" at the end of each section are to help you stay focused on the point just covered during that round of revisions.

Opening quotes from Jordan (paraphrased)--
"Editing is the process of refining scenes to guide your work to the highest level."

"Give yourself permission to re-envision."

She labels her files and her starting point for editing is Draft 1.5.

Top 10 Problems She Sees in Manuscripts:
  • Theme is missing
  • Ending doesn't match the beginning
  • Events misplace or don't belong at all
  • Plot or scenes are repetitive
  • Plot overwrought
  • Character is dragged around by the plot
  • Plot holes
  • Pacing is off
  • Subplot takes over
  • Secondary characters hijack the story
The first thing you need to do is Anchor the Character ARC in your story by making sure the proper milestones are in place throughout the story--
Beginning-show internal situation, demonstrate why it must change.
Middle-the changes take place one by one.
Ending-because of the changes of the journey, he's now strong enough to win.

Tool #1
Throughout the course of the story, my character learns/becomes __________________________ in order to ultimately prevail. 

Don't worry too much about this while writing the story, but once it's written there must be some theme to your work. Why? Lot's of reasons, but one we will talk about later in the week is because it helps with voice. 
Your character ARC to theme connection--the lesson or belief proven by the events of the story. It's the "power of because". Gives us the "so what?" application. 

Theme--Love is strength
Because love is strength, love is worth fighting for. 

Tool #2
My character learns/becomes (lesson). Because (lesson), (so what?)

Macro Structure
1st Quarter set-up
  • hook
  • introduce characters
  • set up story question
  • show world
  • establish stakes and set up...
  • 1st Plot point (20-25% mark)--Major confrontation with antagonistic force that shifts the story/stakes/character into a new gear. 
2nd Quarter response
  • respond to the first quarter but NOT in a proactive way
  • shock/denial
  • retreat?
  • 1st Pinch Point (37.5%)--Antagonist action reader sees directly or "on stage".
  • Mid-point (50%)--Another shift (new information, false defeat/victory, altering the reader's perspective.
3rd Quarter attack
  • Your protagonist is no longer reacting, but trying to think it out and make proactive choices to read a win
  • 2nd Pinch Point (62.5%)--another new direction
  • 2nd Plot Point (75-80%)--last major revelation, final turning point

4th Quarter resolution
  • final confrontation
  • answer story question
  • character is strong enough to win
Tool #3
  • List the milestones in your characters growth. Are they placed correctly? 
  • Fix the sagging middles to keep the character on their course and the story moving forward
  • Create a map for the story--this allows you to see the "shape" of your story and will help with pacing

Tool #4
Combine the story map you created for each plot/subplot of the story. They should NOT line up. The peaks and valleys should all be offset to keep the pacing interesting for your reader. (It's best to look at her slides here.)

Medium Structure (Scenes) Each scene needs it's own structure that includes: Goal, Conflict, Disaster

Sequel structure (the transitions between scenes)--
  • Character's emotional response to the scene
  • rational thought
  • decision
  • Action that moves them toward their goal
These two things will ensure that each scene has a purpose, moves the story forward, advances goals and gives framework for all revisions. 

Tool #5 was a spreadsheet that we moved through VERY fast. There is a picture of it on the presentation on her blog. My take away was to put whatever you need in that spreadsheet. She has all the basics-Chapter, scene, POV, goal, conflict, disaster, setting and purpose as well as a place to keep track of the milestones.

Finally she talked about MRU's.


Motivation Reaction Units.

This is simply watching to make sure that actions come before the reaction.

Tool #6
Maintain the MRU. Rearrange sentences when needed because: 
We react to things after they happen.
If you stack too many things happening at once, how does the reader know which response goes where? Don't stack them up. 

I know this is a lot of stuff without a lot of background information. You guys are smart though and I'm assuming you can figure it out. If not, please ask questions in the comments. 

Note: I still don't know how you determine the percentages for where the plot points are supposed to go. That is the percentage of story line not necessarily pages. Do you have any idea?

Jordan's Books:

I, SPY, 2013 Whitney Award Finalist
CIA operative Talia Reynolds's new boss is her ex-boyfriend. And that's the just beginning of her problems.
SPY FOR A SPY, 2013 Whitney Award Finalist

Here are her helpful Links

Books I referenced

Blog posts

Other resources

Seven-point story structure by Dan Wells on YouTube—each video is about 10 minutes


Jordan McCollum said...

Thanks, Charity! Great notes :D

Tracy Jo said...

Wow, thanks for sharing all this! Very helpful, I need to bookmark so I can come back to it. Great info.

Charity Bradford said...

@Jordan, I just signed up for you email list.

@Tracy Jo go sign up for Jordan's emails. She will be able to answer questions better than me. :)

Liz A. said...

I'm going to have to read this when I'm not muddled. Stupid heat...