Slowly is how I’m reading Susan Bell’s The Artful Edit about the art of self-editing. I’ve finally finished chapter two: The Macro-Edit. And it was a dense chapter, covering the big things that make a good novel tick. I’ve found that Bell’s advice is helpful for rereading your text after it’s written, but it also helps to keep this advice in mind as you write. So, here are Bell’s steps to a complete macro-edit, a list I’ve already returned to.
It is the goal you set for a single aspect of your work . . . Intention is also all these aspects combined into your work’s overarching aim. Intention, as such, is your central idea that guides both writer and reader.
Intention, then, is the particular reason why you’re writing what you are writing. It is the questions you want your work to address. I think intention is something I have at least an intimation of before I begin (with this novel, for instance, one thing I intend for it is the question about how blurry the line can be between illusion and reality). I also think that sometimes intention changes as I write and discover what the text is trying to say.
2. Character: palpability, credibility, motive
Character is character and rather self-explanatory, I think. It is getting a firm picture in your mind of who your character is, what he looks, why he’s doing what he’s doing. Bell uses examples from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby; one way Fitzgerald solidified Gatsby was by saturating a verbal tic, “old sport,” throughout the text.
3. Structure: rhythm, tension
Structure is a bit more enigmatic for me. Perhaps that is the nature of structure itself, being inlaid behind the text, invisible. I know I have trouble with this in the nonfiction articles I write, but I think I at least have an idea of the structure of my fiction before sitting down to type. Here’s some of Bell’s advice on structure:
Structural imbalance makes itself known by, as [Max] Perkins put it, “sagging”: where the narrative drags instead of trots along . . . Ask yourself when you read your draft: Does the drama feel undramatic?
Foreshadowing is indispensable because it moves the story along. It can be dropped symbols throughout your text, or more obvious scenes that mirror each other. Foreshadowing is good to add as you’re going through your draft, as it is easier to put in the best possible place.
5. Theme: leitmotiv
I like this one, a lot! Leitmotiv is the symbols you gently strew throughout your writing in a way that the reader barely notices them at all.
The edit is a good place to finesse a leitmotiv, to place it more purposefully and with apt proportions. You may choose a leitmotiv early on, or discover one embedded in your draft when you edit.
6. Continuity of tone
Stay consistent! is the mantra of copyeditors. For fiction writers: don’t take your readers out of your story.
Continuity of tone generally holds a text together and helps it move forward.
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