Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Chopping Your Manuscript Down to Size

In a recent email, a young writer asked if anyone had ever created a literary mess, plot wise, that could not be straightened out. “I have written almost two hundred thousand words,” she wailed. “Where do I go from here?”

I think a lot of us have known that feeling. We became too involved in our story, and like a dog with a broken leash, we can’t find a place to stop. How do we bring order into this unwieldy universe we have created? It can be done and it doesn’t have to be painful.

There is a method that works for me, and you might find it useful enough that your family will rethink their intention of shipping you off to the loony bin. You probably love what you have written, but it is time to ask yourself this simple question:

What is this scene supposed to accomplish?

Think of your plot as a whole. Try to determine if each scene pushes the story forward to a suitable climax, or if you have simply created a lot of sub-plot that has no connection to your main theme. Easier said than done, you are probably thinking. It will take something more powerful than one of Harry Potter’s magic spells to get the job done. Here is a thought that is almost as powerful as one of Harry’s incantations:

You are not writing for yourself - you are writing for the reader’s benefit!

In a rather caustic review on one website, the reviewer said, “This author is obviously rehashing her failed relationship with her lover, rather than telling us something about the romance of her two characters. I suggest that she take a pill and call us in the morning.”

Instead of fretting, do this. Create a sentence - not a paragraph - that tells you what each scene does. It might be something as simple as: “Molly discovers that Brett is attracted to her best friend.” Ask yourself if the reader needs to know all of the agonizing details, or can this entire scene be summed up in a sentence or two and accomplish the same thing. A lot of good writing has been ruined by cutting description, emotion, and action at the expense of everything else. The next time you discover that you have created a literary mountain instead of a molehill, concentrate on finding those scenes that have nothing to do with the rest of the story. Squash them like roach bugs, one by one, until you have everything down to a manageable size.

There, now! That didn’t hurt a bit, now did it?

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