Revision: A Necessary Evil

Monday, January 27, 2014
Using a shrunken manuscript to assess my work.
I love revising. I get to see the changes that a manuscript goes through, starting with my first clumsy attempt and eventually reaching the point that I’m willing to send it out into the world.

The best techniques I know for revising fiction is the Shrunken Manuscript. I found this technique in Darcy Pattison’s book, Novel Metamorphosis: Uncommon Ways to Revise.

In a shrunken manuscript, you reduce the font and margins and single-space your text. You want your manuscript short enough to see all at once when you spread it out on the floor. No, you aren’t going to be able to read it but you will be able to take a visual survey because shrunken manuscripts are meant to be marked up. What you mark might include:

  • Main plot vs subplots. If you suspect various subplots come into play too late, are resolved too early or simply disappear for lengthy periods of time, mark the text that deals with each. Then you can look at your marked up manuscript and see which parts of your plot come into play, page by page.
  • Narrative vs action vs dialogue. This is a good one if you have problems balancing these three elements. My early drafts tend to be action heavy with little space given over to either narrative or dialogue. I can’t lie to myself about this balance when the evidence is spread out before me.
  • Dialog. If a sidekick has a tendency to talk over your strong, silent main character or your villain is prone to monologue, mark the dialogue for each of your primary and secondary characters. You’ll see when someone is stealing the show and when your main character needs to speak up.
  • Individual Characters. Do you introduce characters early on and then lose track of them? Or perhaps you suspect two minor characters are attempting to highjack the story. Mark where each character is present and check your character balance.
  • Character details. Does your critique group comment that your characterization feels slight? Then get out your highlighters and mark the details given for each character in your story. You may be surprised to find that too much remains in your head and never makes it into the story.
  • Emotion. Mark each emotional shift in your story and you can survey the emotional variety in your overall story but also the variety to be found in each character.
  • Description. Suspect your setting is weak or possibly even nonexistent? Then mark all of the text that plants your story in a specific place or describes this setting.

Prepping a shrunken manuscript can be time consuming, but it is well worth the effort. It is a technique that lets you see for yourself what is in your story as it now stands. You’ll see where the balance is off and be able to judge what you need to do to fix it. And, who knows, maybe you’ll come to enjoy rewriting as much as I do.


Author Sue Bradford Edwards blogs at One Writer's Journey.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Sue--What a unique idea. I am not at this point yet (the novel is not quite finished) but when I am, I will try this.

Thanks for the post.

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