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