What would they think if you turned up in your current state? No, you need a complete overhaul. I’m thinking the works: tone up, slim down, new hairdo, maybe a colon cleanse…
Just how long did you say you have to get ready for this occasion?
Think of yourself — at your worst — as being the first draft of your book. Now think of all those literary agents and big-name editors you hope to impress, as being your blind date.
One, just one, chance at acceptance.
How can you maximize your chances of making this date a success? Give yourself an Extreme Manuscript Makeover.
If you haven’t yet worked through Bare It All, begin the challenge there to chart your plan of attack.
Otherwise, let’s move on to…
Extreme Manuscript Makeover: Tone It Up
Last time, we posed the ultimate question: “How am I going to make this book better?” You made a list of specific ways in which you planned to accomplish this.
In Tone It Up, we’ll begin implementing some of those plans for improvement. I like to refer to them as the 4 R’s of Revision: Rewrite, Rework, Revive, and Refine.
Rewrite and Rework
This will probably be the most strenuous and painful part of editing your book. It will take the most time and effort.
By rewriting, I’m referring to areas of your manuscript that need to be entirely rewritten from scratch. This is sometimes the best and only course of action when tweaking just won’t cut it.
By reworking, I mean moving, inserting or deleting scenes or chapters, or otherwise changing what’s already been written. Often, writers will need to rework parts of their first draft to make it more coherent and improve flow.
Here are some ways you can rewrite and rework to tone up your manuscript:
- Boost Plot: Is your plot rock solid? Make it better by upping the stakes, adding more conflict, re-thinking so-so events, or giving it an unexpected twist.
- Move Material: Which scenes or chapters would be more effective if they were moved to another spot in the manuscript? Sometimes just changing the location of material makes it more readable.
- Add New Material: Are there plot holes or gaps in logic that need to be filled? Add paragraphs, scenes or chapters where necessary so you don’t lose your reader.
- Remove Unnecessary Stuff: You don’t want anything cluttering your work. When facing questionable scenes, events or even characters, ask yourself if your manuscript would be just as well-off without them. If so, start deleting.
- Foreshadow Major Events: Upcoming events in your story shouldn’t be obvious, but readers should retrospectively be able to say, “Ahhh, I should have seen that coming.” Make sure things aren’t happening randomly with no prior clues at all.
- Give It A New Beginning: The first paragraph of your book is the most important. There’s little doubt you can improve your draft’s introduction or first chapter. Will it grab and hold readers’ attention? Should your book start in a different place?
- Change The Ending: Maybe your book ends in the perfect way, but if you’re unhappy with it (or if your readers will have any reason to be so), consider an alternate. Is it the most satisfying, logical and effective it can be?
Revive Your Characters
Characters are your book’s very lifeline. While a story poor on plot might be boring, a story poor on character development is far worse.
During this stage of your manuscript makeover, take the opportunity to revive your characters in the following ways:
- Clarify Motivations: Just like we have motivations in real life, your characters need to be motivated to do the things they do. What goals are they working toward, and what prevents them from achieving those goals? Have you spent enough time developing these motivations so they’re real and believable?
- Strengthen Relationships: An integral part of your storytelling lies in the way your characters act and relate to one another. Strengthen these relationships through keys events, dialogue and characters’ thoughts.
- Make Dialogue More Realistic: While no one wants to read all the ‘ums,’ ‘ers,’ and ‘ahs,’ we use in our normal speech, we also don’t want to read something so stiff it’s unrealistic. Tweak your written dialogue until it’s slightly clearer and more concise than real life.
- Improve Individuality: What makes each of your characters unique from one another? Physical appearance is only a very small part of the equation. The way they speak, act, re-act, move, laugh, and so on, should all promote individuality.
- Banish Stereotypes: Think of some common stereotypes: the ditzy cheerleader, the smart-but-fat girl, the handsome-but-jerky colleague. If these sound anything like your characters, it means you’ve been lazy with developing them. Real people have qualities and habits which set them apart, and so must your characters. While people may give an appearance of being stereotypical, there’s always more below the surface.
Refine Your Voice
Voice includes elements such as style, tone and language use. The voice you use to tell your story will be one of the following:
- Bland: A lack of creativity or originality.
- Obnoxious: Pretentious; trying too hard to be different or experimental.
- Memorable: Adept use of language and fluent storytelling; the essence of readability.
Obviously, you want your voice to be memorable. Ensure it with these steps:
- Be Yourself: It’s okay to be inspired by another writer’s work, but you’re not another writer. You’re you. What sounds right for someone else might sound put-on coming out of your pen. Are you being true to your voice in this manuscript?
- Consider Your Style: If you begin with short, snappy sentences, clean language and plenty of white space, but somewhere along the way you drift into long, flowery passages or dialogue, readers will feel your book was written by two different people. Try flipping to several different parts of your manuscript and assessing whether or not the style is the same.
- Watch Your Tone: The attitudes and feelings that come across in your narration must also be consistent throughout your book. Be careful of allowing your own opinions and biases to intrude on your story, unless you are, in fact, the narrator.
- Clean Up Your Language: Obliterate anything that makes your writing less clear. Focus on sentence structure, word choice and literary devices. While you might be cutting out certain things, feel free to add to your language whatever improves its quality.
Are you starting to feel a little more attractive? Is it easier to stand the sight of yourself now that you’ve put in a little elbow grease? Don’t worry — you’ll soon be ready for your big date.
How’s the revision process going for you?
- What structural changes are you making to your manuscript?
- What areas of characterization do you find the most difficult?
- How are you ensuring your voice will be memorable?
You’ve come so far since beginning your manuscript makeover (*sigh*). You should really be proud of yourself. But don’t celebrate too much just yet: there are a few more details you need to work out.
Click over to Extreme Manuscript Makeover: Get Polished, where you’ll learn strategies to help you proofread your manuscript and make it sparkle.