Monday, June 13, 2011

Dabbling with a Shrunken Manuscript

I finished my Mad Libs draft of Phoenix Rising in December 2009 and then let it sit for a looong time. The incubation period had nothing to do with me not loving the project, but everything to do with life and that other monster, Falling to Normal*.

While I worked on Falling to Normal and then nanowrimodraft10*, Phoenix Rising percolated some more. I edited and still wasn't confident on sharing it with people. Yet. Hubby went and actually read Mad Libs draft 1.1. Much to my surprise, he even had feedback**. So I took his feedback and thought. Then, in support of procrastination, I decided I'd try doing a shrunken manuscript.

A what?
It's this thing I read about on Darcy Pattison's website and several other blogs. What you do is you take your project and condense it down to thirty pages. The goal is to get a visual look at the strengths and weaknesses of your manuscript.

I'll admit that it sounds convoluted and pretty confusing. I had to reread the directions multiple times before I got it, but once I understood what I was supposed to be doing, it finally clicked. Once you've eliminated all page breaks and reduced the font to something ridiculous, you're supposed to locate your strong chapters, your dialogue heavy scenes, etc. From everything I read, the shrunken manuscript is adaptable to what you are looking for.

That sounds like a pain in the ass.
Phoenix Rising, shrunken.
Maybe just a little. Especially when you live with The White One who really likes messing up anything you stick on a table. Crazy cats aside, I did manage to complete a shrunken manuscript.

Since Phoenix Rising is a multiple POV book, I wanted to make sure that all my key players had equal face time with the reader. My two main characters needed to own the majority of the scenes and my secondary ones couldn't upstage them.

I color-coded my POV characters and my dialogue-heavy scenes***. Halfway through the first act, I encountered a problem. I had a fifth POV. I knew four was pushing it, but FIVE? I hurried back to my key and added my fifth character color code, denoted by a grey P. (I had run out of highlighters.) Then I backtracked to incorporate the added POV.

In my head everything seemed cool, but the shrunken manuscript does not lie.

The key with a hastily added "P."
What did you find out?
  • I suffered from a sagging middle.
  • Pike disappears for the entire second act and is barely visible in the third, but is super-important in the first.
  • Walker's POV is much stronger than Kyla's.
  • I had only two dialogue-heavy scenes!

Interesting. How did this change your revision plan?
With such a heavy focus on Pike in act one, I knew I had to carry that through the rest of the novel. This was an easy fix by eliminating what I discovered was a SIXTH POV and throwing those scenes in Pike's POV. It tightened up the middle a bit as well.

And since I was already aware of my crap middle, I put extra focus on strengthening those plot points. Things push along better now with some much needed development on the subplot frontier. Walker's POV is still stronger than Kyla's, but I think that's okay for now. Their combined story works better that way I think.

Will you shrink again?
Most definitely. As I get older, I'm discovering that I'm very much the visual learner. I think doing it so early in the revision process eliminated several drafts. What's awesome is that I can tailor my focus with each go-round as well.


What new techniques have you tried prior to a big revision?

Also! I'm giving away a Circa Starter Kit. You have until Sunday to enter.




* Remember, Alicia + titling = literary disasterpiece.
** The last beta read from Hubby was problematic because it wasn't something he was jazzed about.
*** Being the dialogue-loving whore I am, I fully anticipated every other page to be all dialogue.
____________
Last.fm hit of the day: Presence by Anathema

10 comments:

  1. Oooh, what a cool concept! I think that would definitely help visual learners.

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  2. Wow. cool. Thanks for sharing your experiences with this. I haven't heard of this before but I might have to try it.

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  3. I've heard of the shrinking manuscript. Cynthia Lord brought it up at NESCBWI 2 years ago, and it came up in a workshop this time too. I keep dismissing it, but now I may consider it when I'm done with the next round of edits.

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  4. I'm a visual person too, I lay out my manuscript in colour coded index cards (a colour for each character) and coordinating coloured markers. But I like this idea too, I may give it a shot for my current WIP.

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  5. Huh. That's really very awesome. I'm totally going to try that as soon as I finish this draft.

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  6. This is fascinating Alicia --a really cool approach-- thanks for sharing!

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  7. What an interesting idea. Not sure I can manage the hours but then, without the 30 page perspective, maybe I'm just spinning my wheels?

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  8. Very interesting. Thx for sharing your experience. I had never heard of the technique before, but your example helped me imagine how it would work.

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  9. Wow! My brain just shut down. That is one heckuva technique. I hope it continues to work for you. As for me - most of my revision techniques involve alcohol.

    Just kidding - a little. Actually, one thing I've done - I print off pages of my ms and cut pieces out - this is usually for condensing and combining, or seeing if something works better somewhere else. I need visuals too.

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  10. Yahong made a great point of how this helps visual learners and I pretty much agree. I know Darcy Pattison travels to SCBWI regions and leads a weekend retreat with this as a focus and I wonder how much more there is than this little piece. If any of you try the technique out, definitely let me know how it works.

    Christine, I've thought about the color-coded note cards, but always have a problem with execution.

    Perri, it's not as time-consuming as it looks once you understand the directions.

    Alison, I like your technique. I shall try that out down the line.

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