Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Manuscript Mechanics

My car is sick. Not the kind of sick where it refuses to do anything, but the kind of unpredictable sick where it tricks you into thinking it is going to work before it passes out when you really don't want it to. After an afternoon of trying to fix it (changing the spark plugs, cleaning the air filters etc), I decided to give in and book it in to be seen by a mechanic who'll do a proper diagnostic to pinpoint the problem (instead of spending the next week changing different parts on the car and getting nowhere).

But how do my car woes relate to writing? I promise I'm going somewhere. *grin*

I got to thinking how my car like a manuscript. You've been working in harmony for a while. There haven't been too many major problems. Everything on the surface might seem like it's working fine, but there are always things happening you can't see. Like the undiagnosed problem in my car, a manuscript might have a problem you can't see yet. It could be a problem with the plot. A character isn't quite right (or just doesn't work). You might not start in the right place. The pace could be off.

You try to work out the problem. You revise. You rewrite some scenes and chapters. You add scenes. You might even go on a delete button rampage. Sometimes you can see the problem. A simple fix could be all it takes to get your story running again. But sometimes, as much as you try, you might not see the problem.

You call in a mechanic (or, in writing terms, a critique partner). You need someone who can take a step back and look under the hood. Then, and only then, can you start to work on the problem that's really there. Then your manuscript (and, fingers crossed, my car) can start running again.

Happy writing.

Are you doing revisions or just want some tips? Hang out and read our New Year's Revision Conference posts.

6 comments:

  1. I was shocked when someone in our SCBWI fb group actually recommended against having any sort of critique on your work. Their argument seemed to be that getting so many other opinions just muddies the waters. Makes the author lose sight of their original vision. If you get a lot of conflicting advice, that's certainly a challenge to sift through it.

    But I'm a firm believer that there is a point where you will be going round in circles without someone to give you a fresh look at your work. It's still up to you how you implement (or don't) those suggestions from your critique partners.

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    1. I can see how conflicting advice can be an issue, but as writer's we have to learn what to use and what not to use. I wouldn't survive w/out my cps!

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  2. Lindsay, awesome metaphor! Sorry about your car! I definitely need a mechanic for my manuscripts. There's only so much you can do on your own. By the same token, I get what Angelica's FB buddy was saying, too. Whenever I open my MS up to too many divergent voices at once, especially if it's still early in the revision stage, it can confuse me about the themes and core of my novel. But I wouldn't recommend avoiding critiques. I would just recommend revising on your own as much as you can first, being sure you understand your story better than anyone else. Then you'll be able to brush aside the unhelpful crits and appreciate the gold.

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    1. I do think it matters what stage you're in when you get more eyes on it--I don't really share my first drafts too much. Not because I'm ashamed, but because I'm going to move so much text around, do so much chopping and adding, that it's not a good use of a reader's time. I'd rather get it to a place where I feel like it's the best I can make it--so they can thoroughly disabuse me of that notion!

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    2. Exactly. Like an agent once said, don't show me your book without its makeup on. Same goes for your critique partners, I think, but to a different degree. Obviously it's not going to be glamorous, but it shouldn't look like it just rolled out of bed. Too far with this makeup metaphor? :)

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  3. Great comparison! I love rigging things until they work, but it's probably a good thing that mechanics don't rely on rubber bands and duct tape. I expect agents and publishers don't appreciate quick fixes either.

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