Yesterday I was editing my my epic fantasy, Gods Among Men. I fought my way to the end of chapter four, ...And Strikes Down The Inner Circle. Finally, after weeks (months?) of writing and rewriting, I finished addressing the editing suggestions I had previously received from the writers group.
Feeling pretty good, I scrolled back through the chapter, lightly skimming over the text one last time before moving on to the editing suggestion for chapter one.
That was when I saw it. A big blank space towards the end of the middle section of the chapter. What the heck? I thought. (OK, I admit it, I did not think the word heck, but I am trying to keep this post G-rated, so cut me some slack.)
On any given day, I almost never finish my editing or writing at a the end of a chapter or a major section. Since it might be days (or longer) before I return, I insert multiple blank lines near where I stop for the evening. This makes it fairly easy to scroll back to where I was and continue on from there. Sometimes I write notes to remind me what I was thinking about.
Pulling out my editing notes, I looked at the surrounding text to see what I had done there. Above the blank space everything was fine, but starting just below the gap were suggestions and comments that I had not addressed. How it had happened I cannot guess, but it was clear that I had stopped editing there and forgot to come back and finish making changes.
"Curses," I cried. (OK, I admit I didn't actually do that, but I'm a writer and we're allowed some dramatic license now and again.) There were more changes required than I could make last night, but I should be able to knock them out this evening.
The moral of this story? Structure saves you. If I had not adapted the habit of making my stopping points blindingly obvious I would never have noticed that I skipped something. I would have left problems in the text unaddressed. Not the end of the world, but in writing it is the details that matter.
A single poor word choice can make a sentence awkward. An awkward sentence can detract from the content of a paragraph, which in turn disrupts a scene and throws the reader out of the story. This will happen from time to time even with the best of writers, but when it happens often the reader puts down the book and never returns. Problems when found must be addressed or the work as a whole suffers.