Size DOES Matter--There Are Times When Shrinkage is a GOOD Thing

Saturday, January 21, 2017
Okay, so I'm working on a manuscript. A historical novel for middle grades. I began it on November 1st as a NaNoWriMo project that I did, surrounded by my middle-schoolers. They wrote every day. I wrote every most days.

Let me introduce myself. Hi, I'm Sioux and I'm a slacker. It's been 32 days since my last revision.

I checked on my revision history on my NaNo piece, and I haven't done a single solitary thing with that WIP since December 19. Part of why I'm in a rut is my fault. I'm wallowing in a I'm-stuck-and-I-can't-get-back-up attitude. Part of it is someone else's fault. (There’s a person who has access to a crucial primary document. I've called repeatedly and left messages. I've emailed him even more repeatedly. Short of physically stalking him--he's in D.C.--I'm at a loss.)

In the meantime, there is something I can do… I can shrink down my manuscript, so I can see the whole forest instead of just the individual trees. This can be done in a few, simple steps, but it will take some time.

  • Make your margins as small as you can. The font, too. 8-font will allow you to still read it. Single-space it. This will result in a 200-page manuscript getting reduced to 30-50 pages.

  • Spread out the pages. If you live in a tiny “starter” house like I do, you might have to do this in sections. If you have a large open space that you can block off from snooping spouses, galloping dogs and curious cats, you can lay out the whole thing.

  • Choose some things you’re going to look for. I’m going to check on some character threads. I have some real-life characters who appear in the beginning in a minor way, and then in the end I plan on tying them into what happened. I want to make sure there is an occasional mention of them in the middle, so the reader doesn’t think, ‘Whoa, who is this?’ at the end. Using a highlighter, perhaps I’ll color those parts green.

       Getting mired into the history and ignoring the characters is also a concern. I want to track
the inner dialogue of the main character, to make sure those moments are evenly
interspersed. Maybe with my highlighter, I’ll color those parts blue.

photo by

           Humor, too. My piece focuses on a dark subject, a bit of our history that should cause us a
lot of shame… and yet it’s not well-known and it’s not in any history books. Occasionally,
I'm going to need a little levity to lighten things up.  I think I’m going to mark all the funny parts pink.

I remember a while long time ago, a blogger friend (Margo Dill? Mary Horner?) wrote about this technique. I was reminded of it last night when a group of teacher-writer friends met. We’re reading Kate Messner’s Real Revision (it’s on page 72-73) and it hit me upside my head. I should do this. It would get me doing something, and maybe pull me out of my rut.
          Darcy Pattison, another writer, has some guidelines that she uses. She calls it the

All this revision talk makes me curious. What revision tricks do you have up your sleeve? Stuck-in-a-rut minds want to know...

Sioux Roslawski is a St. Louis freelance writer, a member of the infamous WWWP writing critique group, a dog rescuer for Love a Golden Rescue, a wife, a mother of two, a grandmother of one and a middle-school teacher. Like many educators, she delights in great ink pens, Sharpies, highlighters and free Krispy Kremes in the teachers' lounge. If you'd like to read more of Sioux's stuff. go to Sioux's Page.


Judy H said...

I'm basically in the same spot. My NaNoWriMo is 99 pages of scenes, partial scenes, ideas, character sketches and notes. My goal is to separate it out (cutting up pages if I need to) into it's various parts and start fleshing out what I have, making use of the notes, ideas and sketches to become a fully formed rough draft.

Unknown said...

Thanks for this post. I learned the technique years ago from Darcy Pattison, and it never fails to yield enlightening information for "re-visioning" my work.

Margo Dill said...

I have heard Darcy talk about this before and had some friends do it. Everyone says it works. I am ashamed to tell you how many days it has been since my last revision because I could tell you in months...but one day!

Crystal Otto said...

Great tips - I love this article!

Nicely done Sioux!


Sioux Roslawski said...

Judy--Perhaps you should cut up your WIP into pieces and I should do the same... We'll shuffle them up and see what we have once they're mixed up.
Keep working on it. I have found one thing. There is no literary fairy who completes our WIPs at night while we're sleeping. If it is going to get completed, WE have to do it ourselves.

Carol--You're welcome. Did you take a workshop with Darcy? If so, that was probably a wonderful workshop.

Margo--We can go to a 12-step program meeting/confession together. ;)

Crystal--Thanks. I'm glad you liked it.

Val said...

No tips from me. Making myself understand that I NEED to revise is my biggest hurdle.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Val--Some work doesn't need revision... or at least much revision. You might be one of the lucky ones.

Cathy C. Hall said...

Yep, I've sort of used Darcy Pattison's
shrunken manuscript method, and I might use that on a WIP that needs...well, something. I'm not sure what.

And P.S. This story sounds fascinating! Hope you get that missing piece soon!

Sioux Roslawski said...

Cathy--Yeah. When my voice has to fade away ("My story needs SOMEthing..."), it's a case of knowing it's lacking something, and I'm not sure exactly what it needs, but I'll know it when I see it.

Thanks. I'm driven too, and intrigued. I haven't given up on that missing puzzle piece yet.

How is the "Cathy-C.-Hall-is-taking-over-the-Korean-childrens'-book-market" plot going?

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

The Shrunken manuscript! It is such a great tool for weighing so many things. I too learned it from Darcy Pattison and most often use it to study the balance between dialogue, action, and narrative. I will definitely be using it to evaluate my new novel but I'll need to write more than four pages first!

Sioux Roslawski said...

Sue--Yeah, a shrunken four pages won't take up too much floor space. ;)

Donna Volkenannt said...

First time I heard of the shrunken manuscript technique. I might try it.

I'm not sure if this is a tip, but after receiving comments from critique partners I post my manuscript and suggested changes on a split screen side-by-side, which makes changers easier to spot.

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