Posted On June 8, 2015 by Print This Post

Structure Saves The Day—Again with Adrienne Giordano

Yay!  Adrienne Giordano is back with a great post on structure – and her slight obsession with it!

adrienne-251x300Good morning, RU Crew. It’s great to be back! I’ve written before about my ongoing (and uncontrollable) obsession with plot structure, but like many things on this writing journey, I continue to learn new ways to edit my work.

Part of my fascination with plot structure includes studying films and books to see where all the major turning points in the stories fall. My husband has gotten used to me whispering, “Call to Action” or “Ordeal” when we go to the movies. At this point, I’m surprised he doesn’t insist we sit separately.

As annoying as I might be with my little obsession, it has once again probably saved my manuscript. One of my earlier RU posts described how I was able to fix a pacing issue on one of my 55,000 word Harlequin Intrigues. Now I’ve been able to use plot structure to save a 90,000 word single title.

Kelsey Browning and Tracey Devlyn have been listening to me moan about what we call “the Vegas book” for almost two years. The Vegas book is a romantic suspense we plotted during one of our amazing plotting weekends. There’s an entire backstory to this book, but we don’t have that much time so let’s just say that last year I gave the plot an overhaul by removing some of the violence. After submitting the proposal to several publishers, some of the editor feedback was that the book didn’t have enough suspense.

Yep, the book I took all the violence out of wasn’t violent enough.

I know many of you can feel my pain.

At that point, I’d written 54,000 words on this manuscript and was so frustrated I decided to put it away for a while. I knew I wanted to finish it, but I wasn’t sure how to revise it. For me, distance sometimes brings clarity.

The book sat for about six months while I worked on other projects. Then about a month ago I came across James Scott Bell’s Super Structure. Being a fan of Mr. Bell’s books, I immediately scooped up a copy. If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it. After reading the book, I decided it was time to dust off my Vegas manuscript. I went through what I had already written to determine whether or not I’d included the “signposts” Mr. Bell refers to in Super Structure. For me, these signposts help determine where the story should go next.

9780373698479So, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of what I did. As I said, I had written 54,000 words on the manuscript. I was just beyond what I had considered the midpoint of the book. That alone told me I had a pacing issue in the first half of the book. With each book I’ve written, my first draft of a single title comes in at roughly 80,000 words. By the time I’m done revising, my single titles usually wind up between 90-95,000 words. If the first draft of a book is coming in with the midpoint at the 54,000 word mark, based on my process, I know that I need to trim. On a first draft, my midpoint should be somewhere around the 40,000 word mark.

After analyzing the first half of the book based on James Scott Bell’s Super Structure, I determined that my first major turning point (the one that propels the book into Act II) happens at the 19,684 word mark. I always want my first turning point to happen before the 25% mark of the book. In this case, the first turning point was happening at the 22% mark. Not bad, but I still felt that first turning point should happen earlier.

I went to work analyzing each scene in the first quarter of the book.

The two important questions I asked were:

  1. Does this scene move the romance along?
  2. Does this scene move the criminal investigation along?

Based on the above questions, I identified two scenes that weren’t getting the job done and nixed them. Yep. Just like that. Gone. I’ve learned that if one of my scenes is easy to delete, it probably wasn’t that important. The two deleted scenes were over 2,500 words.

From there, I went to my next go-to option when trying to tighten a manuscript. Backstory. I have a love-hate relationship with backstory. It’s necessary, but I struggle with how much is too much. One trick that always helps me is to highlight in yellow anything I consider backstory. Sometimes I take that a step further and print the pages. Then I line them up across the floor so I can see how much yellow there is overall. This time, there was a lot of yellow. Deleting the unnecessary backstory got me another (hold on now!) 1,819 words.

Doing the math, here’s what this breaks down to:

Original word count up to the first turning point: 19,684

Word count of deleted scenes:                                      -2,559

Word count of deleted backstory:                                –1,860

Revised word count up to the first turning point:  15,265

My first turning point now occurs at roughly the 17% mark of the manuscript. I won’t say this was a painless process. Deleting scenes is never easy. Particularly when it totals what was probably a day’s worth of work. But sometimes analyzing our work systematically rather than emotionally takes the sting out of having to cut scenes we love.

The reward I received for this exercise is that the opening of my manuscript has a much faster pace and (as the editors requested) is more suspenseful. And that makes all the cutting worthwhile.

RU Crew, what do you think? Would you try analyzing your work this way?

 

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What’s coming next: The One Thing You Need to Know Is Everything with Natalie Damschroder on Wednesday, June 10th.

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Bio: USA Today bestselling author Adrienne Giordano writes romantic suspense and mystery.  She is a Jersey girl at heart, but now lives in the Midwest with her workaholic husband, sports obsessed son and Buddy the Wheaten Terrorist (Terrier). She is a co-founder of Romance University blog and Lady Jane’s Salon-Naperville, a reading series dedicated to romantic fiction. For more information on Adrienne’s books, please visit www.AdrienneGiordano.com. Adrienne can also be found on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/AdrienneGiordanoAuthor, Twitter at http://twitter.com/AdriennGiordano and Goodreads at http://www.goodreads.com/AdrienneGiordano. For information on Adrienne’s street team, Dangerous Darlings, go to http://www.facebook.com/groups/dangerousdarlings.

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21 Responses to “Structure Saves The Day—Again with Adrienne Giordano”

  1. Oh how lovely! I’m so pleased someone else mutters structural points at the telly! Except it drives my husband potty, and he has been known to refuse to watch films with me. Do you critique dialogue as well?
    Your post was great; I always find it so interesting to read about the nuts-and-bolts of other people’s writing. Thank you very much – good luck with the Vegas book!
    Carlie

    Posted by Carlie | June 8, 2015, 3:33 am
    • Hi, Carlie. Yes, I do that with the television too! We are kindred spirits! 🙂

      I don’t know that I critique dialogue so much, but when I find dialogue that I love I study it. I’ll mark up the pages or keep rewinding the program to hear it again. I listen for the cadence and then analyze the word choices. It’s kind of fun!

      Posted by Adrienne Giordano | June 8, 2015, 7:32 am
  2. Hi all. I’m on a book tour this week so I will pop back later this afternoon!

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | June 8, 2015, 7:33 am
  3. Thanks for sharing. I’ll also check out JSB’s book.

    Right now I’m focused on adding words and suspense. This definitely helps.

    Posted by Jackie Layton | June 8, 2015, 10:08 am
  4. I’m glad I’m not the only one who has had to painfully cut over 2500 words of an MS. I just did that this weekend.

    Posted by Heatherly Bell | June 8, 2015, 11:38 am
  5. Thanks for the suggestions. I’m having horrible problems with the WIP, and this may just help me figure out what’s wrong!

    Posted by Fredericka Meiners | June 8, 2015, 11:54 am
  6. Nice post! I’m a story structure nerd too, and have found it helpful in both planning and revising. Glad this worked for you!

    At the movies, I often check my watch when major events happen. I think I need to steal your idea of whispering plot points, though… Creepy awesome 🙂

    Posted by G.G. Andrew | June 8, 2015, 12:23 pm
    • Hi, G.G. It is creepy awesome! My poor husband. I know it must irritate him but he just nods. I love being able to identify all the plot points though. The next movie I watch I’m going to see if I can identify the signposts James Scott Bell talks about in his book. That’s going to be super cool!

      Thanks for stopping in.

      Posted by Adrienne Giordano | June 8, 2015, 3:04 pm
  7. I always really WANT to read books like this and I absolutely appreciate and understand the value of such analysis. But I’ll buy the book and read a few pages and then it will sit on my desk for a year and then get moved to my printer shelf and then, when I stop denying my patheticness, it goes on my regular shelf until I donate it 5 years later. LOL

    It’s weird, because I’m a very analytical person overall, but when it comes to approaching my books that way, my brain just freezes up. I’m always game to try it, though, so I’m checking out the book. 🙂

    Posted by Natalie J. Damschroder | June 8, 2015, 3:28 pm
  8. Evening A!

    I’m like Natalie…I WANT to learn it, I SHOULD learn it, it just won’t sink into my brain. I keep thinking by sheer osmosis of having so many writing books it should just seep into my veins.
    Right? Right??? =)

    Glad James’ book helped so much, he’s brilliant. As a matter of fact, looks like we should be extending him an invitation to post with us again….=)

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | June 8, 2015, 10:03 pm
  9. As a pantser just barely comfortable with writing to turning points, a tight structure is foreign to me. In theory, I can see what a benefit it would be, but so far I haven’t been able to adapt to a strictly plotted outline. I could definitely see this as a way to make rewrites move along more efficiently.

    It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks, but sometimes I do manage to get my brain to adapt to a new idea or two!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | June 8, 2015, 10:50 pm
    • Hi, Becke. The thing I love about structure is you can pants your way through the whole thing and then go back and see if what you’ve written falls into three-act structure. If not, you can revise. For me, structure isn’t about pantsing or plotting. It’s more about pacing and making sure the major events fall in the right spots. 🙂

      Posted by Adrienne Giordano | June 9, 2015, 11:48 am
  10. I like to keep things, including my books, structured. It gives me a feeling of control and confidence.

    Posted by Pimion | July 11, 2015, 4:20 pm

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