That first edit is the most difficult. It is also the most important. It is in this edit that we must get the shap of our text right.
Which is worse poor writing, or poor structure? I guess it depends who is reading. If you’re a literary sort of person you’ll probably persevere with a lack of plot in order to enjoy the poetry of the language. Nevertheless, even that lover of words can feel cheated if in the end the story goes nowhere. Many of the rest of us want to be engaged, want to be taken out of our own world or want the satisfaction of reading a story whose shape we recognise.
Interestingly many an editor will read the sample chapters before they look at the synopsis. They have to be engaged by the writing before they look to see if an acceptable structure exists. They’ll still reject, though, if the structure’s not there.
Usually, if someone can write well they can structure well, but the latter may take more effort and may be more of a struggle.
The first edit has to be about getting the plot right. The tension must mount and there must be a credible gap between that all important crisis and resolution. The resolution must be believable and not created by a “deus ex machina”, a sudden favourable twist of fate beyond the control of the protagonist. We are more satisfied if our heroes control their own fate.
Even the best writers can get this wrong. Goodness knows I’m as in love as the next person with Stephenie Meyers’ Edward Cullen, and I love the dreamy, literary voice she has bestowed upon Bella. However, what happened? One minute Bella is about to be ravished by another vampire, the next angel-vampire Edward is at her side and there hasn’t even been a struggle. Oh I’m hooked all right, but if there weren’t great moments of tension elsewhere in the story, if the books weren’t so well written, if we didn’t have such a fabulous romance and such a gorgeous love interest, she would not get away with this weakness.
Our first task is to hone our work into shape. It is the biggest edit. We may have to do away with whole scenes or even characters. We may have to extend others and add in extras. We have to recognise when our characters or our settings have taken us off for a walk in the park. Fascinating though all these details often are, we have to get back to the spine of our story.
Don’t worry. All of that work has not been in vain. It has helped you to know your characters and your setting better. But your reader does not need that amount of detail. You must somehow condense all of that knowledge into those details which carry the story forward. Oh, you will, because now you know all that you need to know so well. Something magical happens.
The first cut is the hardest, the deepest and the most important to get right. Then, as subsequent edits take place, a beautiful, polished, publishable piece of work emerges.