So, you say you’re going on a blind date?
Oh, the romance. The moonlight, the flowers, the soft music. The accidental touch of two hands inadvertently meeting in the breadbasket…
Just one thing: Not to be rude, but have you really taken a look at yourself lately?
That’s right. When was the last time you stood bare-naked in front of a mirror and checked yourself out? It’s been a while, hasn’t it?
Maybe you’ve aged a little. Your butt is beginning to sag. There are ornery black hairs growing where they shouldn’t be. Those toenails could use a trim. And, well, you kind of have B.O.
Let’s be honest. It’s a good thing this is a blind date. Would you go on a date with yourself at the moment?
There are many similarities between making over yourself for a blind date, and making over your manuscript for submission to agents and publishers. They both take careful planning, hard work, and an iron stomach. And they both culminate in either acceptance or rejection (hopefully acceptance).
Extreme Manuscript Makeover: Bare It All
Check out Extreme Manuscript Makeover’s Introduction to find out what’s in store for this fantastic series on manuscript revision.
For those who are ready to strip down and take a good long look at your work (warts and all), let’s start with some strategies for planning your manuscript’s extreme makeover.
Give It A Once-Over
We’ll begin by reading your first draft from beginning to end.
This step is vitally important. It will give you an impression of how the entire manuscript fits together, as well as bring to light all kinds of problems with your work.
But remember, you’re just starting this journey. As tempting as it can be, resist the urge to tweeze any stray hairs from your manuscript at this point. It isn’t time for revision.
Don’t just give it a quick scan either: reading your draft should take even longer than it would to read any other book. As the author, you’re on a highly intimate level with your manuscript. Reading too quickly will cause you to mentally skip over things others will easily notice.
Likewise, reading through your book as soon as you’ve finished writing it won’t be terribly beneficial. Put it away for at least two months. By the end of this period, you’ll see everything with fresh eyes.
But wait! Don’t begin reading just yet. Before you start, consider the following strategies you’ll want to use as you go.
While you’re reading, mark your manuscript where necessary.
You can create a legend using symbols such as arrows, asterisks and underlining to mark any problems. Or, simply write yourself a note where something needs to be changed. (Hint: Try to forget grammar or spelling at the moment. You’ll come to that later.)
At the same time, keep a notebook with the following headings to record observations, inconsistencies and weaknesses:
- Plot: What happens in your story
- Story Structure: Inciting incident, rising action, climax, denouement, etc.
- Theme: The overall idea you try to get across
- Pacing: How quickly or slowly parts of your story move as they progress from beginning to end
- Language Use: Word choice, fluency, literary devices, tone
- Characterization: How you bring your characters to life
- Dialogue: The manner in which your characters speak to each other, and what they say
- Foreshadowing: Hints or clues as to major events that will happen later in the story
- Action and Repose: Exciting stuff vs. calm stuff
- Tone: The feelings and attitudes you portray as you write
- Title: What you decide to call your book, and why
- Chapters: The way your book is divided into sections for both effectiveness and manageability
- Length: The appropriateness of your manuscript’s word count
- Market Appeal: How your book fits into current market needs and trends
- Other: Any other headings you want or things that arise during your reading
Create A Timeline
If you didn’t create a timeline of your book during the planning stages, or if you significantly strayed from your initial plans, you’ll want to make one as you read your first draft.
Your timeline can be as simple as a line with a few words scribbled at appropriate points to indicate significant events. You might get creative and use sketches or symbols instead. Perhaps you feel more comfortable preparing something very formal. Whatever works for you, use it.
By making a timeline as you read, you’ll be be able to see the overall story arc and get a feel for pacing. It may also illuminate areas for revision, such as disappearing characters or large gaps in action.
When you’ve finished reading your manuscript, taking notes and creating a timeline, you’re ready for the final step of Extreme Manuscript Makeover, Part I.
Brainstorm Ideas For Improvement
This is where you take all the information you’ve gathered about your book and get down to some serious planning. The big question you’re asking yourself is, “How am I going to make this book better?”
Consider the following ways to take your manuscript from rough to refined:
- Is my entire manuscript consistent with the overall themes I want to portray?
- Do each of my scenes carry the plot closer to the climax? Are any unnecessary?
- Are my characters strongly developed with believable motivations? Do they speak using credible dialogue?
- Will readers find parts of my book boring? How can I fix this?
- Is my title the most effective one possible?
- What areas of my language need to be refined?
- Are my chapters appropriate length? Is the book either too long or too short?
No doubt, you will think of a long list of ways to improve your manuscript from its current status as first draft.
We can all stand to learn from each other’s experiences. Let us know how you’re going with this phase of your manuscript makeover.
- How do you know when your first draft is ‘finished?’
- What are the biggest problems you’re facing with this revision?
- Have you been through a manuscript revision before? What process did you use?
Ready for your next assignment? Join me for Extreme Manuscript Makeover: Tone It Up, where you’ll put away the ugly mirror and start getting yourself ready for your dream date.
I’ll teach you how to take all the ideas you accumulated today, and implement them into your manuscript.
(Oh, and you can get dressed now…)