If you think you’re a pretty good writer (which I do) and you want to become a better writer (which I also do), then my advice is to hire an editor. Bear in mind, though, that even though you’re paying them, a good editor will be direct and honest, often brutally so. It’s kind of a writer’s version of going to an S&M parlor.

That said, I’m enjoying my relationship with my editor, who has dramatically improved the novel I’m working on. She has helped me with voice/narrative as well as sequence of chapters, something I thought I already had nailed.

She has also been helpful in making me break down scenes, making sure they follow some basic rules:

  1. Each scene should have some change element in it, usually to a main character.
  2. Stay consistent with your viewpoint (you can change the character whose perspective it is, but don’t jump from one to the other.)
  3. Orient/introduce your characters and setting to the audience without doing so obviously or formulaically.
  4. If the scene doesn’t advance the major point of your story, kill it or improve it.
  5. Use longer scenes in the beginning and shorter scenes as the story advances.      

The only area where we have difficulty is in her request (more like a demand) that every scene is like a teeter-totter. It either opens high and goes low (emotionally speaking) or it opens low and ends high. I understand the idea of a scene needing an arc, but the teeter-totter approach (my description, not hers) is problematic for me. It seems forced and formulaic, that if I adhere to it too exactly, it will hurt the flow of the story.

After all the input and back-and-forth about structure and opening chapters, I’m about to submit the first 40,000 words of my novel to her for her review. I’ll update you on whether I get taken to the woodshed for not adhering to the teeter-totter or whether I’ve subconsciously adopted her advice and just don’t know it.

Stay tuned.