Distance from a Manuscript Can Open Your Eyes

Thursday, July 21, 2022
A bit of distance can help spot manuscript flaws.

Earlier this week, I stopped by Twitter before getting to work for the day. A friend had posted about getting down to edits on her current project. “I need to make sure that I focus on macro-edits today instead of diving into micro edits.” I totally understand. Micro-edits are so much easier to spot. Our word processors help us by underlining spelling errors, highlighting grammar problems, and even making some changes automatically. 

Macro edits?  Those take careful reading an analysis to locate. 

Back in May, I posted about macro-edits. Those are the big-picture items that are all about pacing and structure, characterization, and setting. Are your characters sympathetic? Do your beginning and ending work together? Does your manuscript lag in the middle? All this and so much more can come up when looking at the big picture.

On the day my friend posted about making macro-edits, I was reading over a graphic novel manuscript that I hadn’t touched in over a year. It languished while I worked on other things, but my writing instructor has agreed to take a look at it, and I wanted to make a quick run through the manuscript before sending it to her. 

As I remembered, the ending was a little weak, but, other than that, the manuscript was sound. I could tackle it and have it read to go out by lunch. Are you laughing hysterically yet? 

Atom Mom is a picture book graphic novel about a group of children who want to do something special for their mom. She’s a superhero, and all the responsibilities of being everything to everyone are weighing her down. 

But a year’s absence meant that I was seeing my manuscript with new eyes. It didn’t take me long to realize that the beginning of the story just didn’t sing. With triplets as the main characters, I was constantly shifting from character to character to work then all in. Allegedly each had a unique personality, but one of them faded into the background. It won’t take long to delete her, but it will also mean reshaping the remaining characters. A remaining character will need to take on her few essential tasks. 

If only this was all I spotted. My secondary characters include a pair of teen siblings. I don’t need them both because they are doing the work of a single character. Sorry, boys. One of you needs to hit the road. 

In addition to removing characters, I’m going to have to rename two of them. I have a pair of names that are too similar, and another name is painfully cliché. It seemed clever at the time, but now it just seems cringeworthy. 

By the time I finished my read-through, I had a list of things to rework. And sadly? They were all macro-edits, big picture items that I hadn’t spotted when I was working on the manuscript on a regular basis. Absence had made these problems glaringly obvious. 

Sigh. I miss the good old days when I only spotted micro-edits. I could have been shifting commas and coming up with a better word for “fling.” Fortunately, that will all be waiting for me when I’m done with the bigger fixes. Only then will it be time to move on to fine-tuning the manuscript and helping my characters fling their problems into the stratosphere. 


Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 30 books for young readers.  To find out more about her writing, visit her site and blog, One Writer's Journey.

The next session of her new course, Pitching, Querying and Submitting Your Work will begin on August 7, 2022).  Coping with rejection is one of the topics she will cover in this course.

Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins August 7, 2022) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins August 7, 2022). 


Nicole Pyles said...

Distance IS a big help. In a story I'm working on that I always thought was so well done, I realized I missed a big piece of description that I now realized was so important. I don't think I would have noticed that if I hadn't allowed distance to come in.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Hmm. Now I'm wondering what I've left out. Fortunately, I can do as many rewrites as it takes!

Sioux Roslawski said...

Sue--You're now a serial killer.

Absence may make the heart grow fonder when it comes to people, but when it comes to a manuscript, it usually makes the brain cringe.

I am so out of touch, I don't know the answer to this question: you did the drawings for Atom Mom?

ANY time someone says or thinks 'I can finish this by lunch' I imagine the gods are all rolling on the floor.

Good luck with any other murders you have to commit.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Oh, no. I am not doing the drawings.

Having to remove two characters is all the funnier because, in a picture book workshop, I foolishly said, "I never add pointless characters to a picture book." Maybe not a regular picture book, but a picture book graphic novel? Clearly it is a problem.

Fortunately, I really do enjoy rewriting and watching a ms take shape.

Angela Mackintosh said...

I always find something cringeworthy when I revisit an older manuscript. Right now I'm pulling up old memoir chapters and trying to make them into standalone essays, which involves clarifying backstory with exposition, which I hate, cutting entire scenes and characters because they won't make sense without the whole, and trying to find replacement scenes that will make sense. I just cut out my dad's roommate character, and my writing partner told me to replace him with a scene with my dad. But this is a true story and I didn't talk to my dad right then, but oh well. I guess you have to do what's best for the piece, but I can get creative with it to keep it true and jump around in time, I suppose. It's annoying and so hard to change something that was intended to work with a long arc. But still, it's better than the blank page.

I'm glad you're working on Atom Mom! The plot sounds like a real life story.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Hi Ang,
I can only imagine the extent of the changes you are having to make so that pieces function as stand alone essays. I wonder if a flash essay would be easier just because it would be shorter and less complex. What am I saying?! Short and less complex is often harder. You've got the talent to pull this off!

Cathy C. Hall said...

Yep, what a difference a year makes. I wonder if there's ever a writer who looks at something from a year back and says, "WHOA--this is AMAZING!" Hahahaha!

(Love the concept of Atom Mom--good luck with it!)

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Ha! Every once in a while, I'll start reading something and think, "Wow! This is good." But more often than not, I set it aside because I just don't know how to fix it. Often, I'm not even sure what is wrong.

Thank you for the kind words re: Atom Mom. She is a favorite.

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