Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Unlike Fixing Your Car, Tuning Your Manuscript Requires More Than Mechanics

Have you ever picked up something you drafted ages ago and read it... only to discover it was awful? I do that all the time.

When my daughters were teens I took it upon myself to write teen romance novels for them. The first one, Fifteen- Love, was the story of a fifteen-year-old girl trying out for the high school tennis team and trying to catch the eye of a cute guy on the team. Clever, huh?

I don’t think I ever finished Mark Time, the story of a young girl in marching band who thinks the senior conductor (Mark something or other) is wonderful and the annoying trumpet player vying for her attention is horrible. You can guess were that one headed.

I laughed out loud when I read those never-to-be-published manuscripts. I knew nothing about writing. I only knew the books out there for my girls weren’t any better and often contained messages I couldn’t condone.

I thought my writing improved until I picked up a manuscript I wrote in 2013 with the intent of polishing it a bit and submitting it to an agent. I’ve been working on it for two weeks now.

The process is something akin to taking your car in to the shop to have the oil changed only to discover you need to overhaul the entire engine, fix the brakes, rotate the tires, and replace the transmission. Some people would junk the car and buy something new. But you love that car. You have a history with that car. You go through the overhaul and rebuilding of that car because you know in your heart of hearts it’s a classic and worth the investment.

I offer today’s post to help you tackle your own manuscript in your own garage. Let’s look at a few of the problems I’ve noted, a few quick fixes, and the big overhauling taking place.

Problem #1: Backstory. I tend to write way too much backstory in the beginning. In fact I knew this when I drafted this manuscript so I deliberately went in and chopped off the first two chapters after I wrote the book. Oh but I didn’t stop there as I should have. Instead, I was so anxious to not lose anything, I wove the backstory right back into chapter three. I thought I was being clever…I wove it into a conversation. IT IS BORING.

The Fix? I’m cutting every bit of the backstory out. I saved it in a dump file so if I really need it, and I mean REALLY need it, I have it.

Problem #2: Telling. Telling is a big no-no in writing a novel. I know this yet, I find when I am anxious to move to the next exciting scene or if I’m, tired, I tend to get lazy. I start “telling” everything. Telling takes more space and more words but less craft. Telling bogs the story down and doesn’t credit the reader with more intelligence than a snail. The fix? I have been combing through the manuscript constantly asking myself how to show the information to move the story forward. I try to see the story unfold as a movie, using images instead of words.

Problem # 3: Pacing. Part of the pacing problem in this story is connected to the long, boring conversation between my main character and her best friend. Some of the pacing issue resolved itself when I cut the conversation to the bare bones of what needed to be said. The pacing also picked up when I started showing what was happening instead of describing every detail.

Sometimes I pick up the pace by shortening the sentences and checking to make sure I’ve used an active voice instead of a passive voice.

How long does this take? Revision is a process. Like the classic car, it may take months of fine-tuning but is well worth the investment of time.

How do you approach revision? What problems seem to surface on a regular basis for you?

Finally…An Announcement: Since March is the anniversary of the release of Breathingon Her Own, I have a few goals set and a couple of treats in store.
            *I am hoping to gain seven (7) more reviews to reach my goal of 150 reviews on Amazon. If you read the book and always meant to leave a review, here is your chance to do a good deed.
            *In honor of the Anniversary, my publisher has approved offering the Kindle version of Breathing on Her Own for FREE on March 22-24. Even if you already have a copy, you can order a copy and send to a friend as a gift. Simply follow the instructions on the Amazon order form.
            *Toward the end of the month, watch for more short stories and giveaways.

            *Next week I’ll be featuring Laura Hilton as my guest. Be sure to tune in.

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