No matter how much research one does, no matter how fascinating one's character is, no matter about that exquisite sensory turn of phrase to capture the essence of the setting, unless you have the STRUCTURE right in your novel, it will not work.
I usually have a sense of the story's structure and plot when I start to write a new one ... gleaned from many years of reading novels of all types and genres, and studying the complexities of this craft for the past 15 years - but that isn't enough.
You can get very precise about these things - like knowing exactly where all the essentials happen in your story.
Does this chart excite you or make your blood run cold?
Inciting Event (12% mark)
First Plot Point (25% mark)
First Pinch Point (37% mark)
Midpoint (50% mark)
Second Pinch Point (62% mark)
Third Plot Point (75% mark)
Climax (88% mark)
Climactic Moment (end of conflict)
Resolution (end of story)
For me, it's not until the first draft is finished that my brain is in the right space to engage the huge amount of thought and organisational skill to ensure the structure is the best I can make it. Sometimes, I think it's working, but its not!
Recently, I talked about another of my novel manuscripts with Lisa Berryman, associate publisher at Harper Collins. (Here's the SCBWI link to Lisa's thoughts).
Her excellent feedback after reading that manuscript included an acute observation ... that I'd rushed the ending. She picked it straight away, like great publishers and editors do.
The good news is ... I took notice of what Lisa said, and I rewrote and edited again - and happy news!!!! Lisa Berryman and HarperCollins Australia acquired the story, and SWEET ADVERSITY will be published in July 2018.
Why did I not see what Lisa picked up on?
Because I'm too close to the story? Because I get 3/4 of the way through the first draft and sub-consciously want to finish it asap? Probably a combination of these. Leonie Tyle, mentor, publisher and fabulous editor told me structural editing can never be done successfully by the author of the work. She's right there.
How to do it successfully? That is the question. There are as many methods to capture that final structural edit as there are to plot the story!
I like Kate Forsyth's Narrative Arc 3-act Plot Chart and use it for my chapter book stories, for plotting, and for checking the structure afterwards.
I've read and used John Truby's book, The Anatomy of Story. It's for screenwriters, but also for fiction writers. It's much more complex, but makes a lot of sense. K.M.Weiland's The Secrets of Story Structure is useful too. As is Janice Hardy's fabulous blog, The Fiction University.
For my Venice and Caterina story, I'm immersed in a structural edit (as far as I can take it anyway, before I show it to any professional editors/publishers).
I'm pretty keen on The Story Grid, a method from American literary editor, Shawn Coyne.
It's a complex method of checking structure etc, so don't buy the book (or ebook) before you've listened to a lot of his free podcasts, and you till want to 'get a handle on it' all.
So, the uptake on all of this is - Caterina's story is humming along. I don't want to send this one to publishers before it's as good as I can get it. But, we (Caterina and I) will get there in the end ... that, I promise.