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Tackling the Killer Manuscript

So you’ve written the story of your dreams. You’ve stamped your soul’s signature onto it. With all your heart, you believe it’s publishable, unique and marketable. It just has one itsy problem.



It’s a big fat mess.


Yep. That’s me with my latest WIP. It’s a new series that’s been rattling around in my brain for about five years. While GILDED was on submission I decided to write the impossibly complicated story.

It has earned the fond name of THE BEAST. You might have heard me refer to this in previous blog posts and on Twitter. Let me tell you, that book practically killed me. And I’m not finished with it. I don’t even know if it will sell. But I truly believe the story is stronger because of the process I put it through.


If you have a story like mine and you’re willing to not give up on it even though it’s a big fat mess, then here are some steps that might help you.

1.       Ask yourself if you’re committed to the story. Are you willing to do anything for it? This includes major rewrites, structural, plot, or overarching changes in the main character’s internal conflicts? If you can answer yes to all of these things, then keep reading. If not, forget your story and write a new one.



2.       Okay, so now that you’re committed, you need to write a query, synopsis, and a detailed outline. The query will tell you the central issue your story will face. The synopsis will give you an idea of flow of the story, and the outline will show where your plot holes are located, among other things.



3.       Study your query, synopsis, and outline. Personally, I like to also use a plotting grid. See the one attached that I made up using a traditional one with my own personal tweaks. (Don’t worry, I plan on vlogging more on this plot grid later) Find where your weaknesses are. Number them from biggest issues to smallest issues. Tackle each one step at a time.



4.       Now send it to two or three critique partners who will tell you if it’s awful or not. When they send back their notes, take them seriously. If more than one person is saying the same thing, you should strongly consider changing what they say is the problem. I find that my critique partners are right 99.9% of the time.


5.       At this point I print out their suggestions and highlight them in various colors. An example is: character issues,  I highlighted in blue, plot is in green, internal conflict with main character in purple. I’m a visual person and right away I can see where the central problems are lying in.


6.       From there, I brainstorm ways to fix my problems using a flow map. Something like this.

7.       Don’t be worried about trying multiple versions. In THE BEAST, all three of my crit partners didn’t like the opening. It was too slow, but they didn’t know how to solve it. They all gave me suggestion though.

What I found after looking at my color scheme of highlighting that most of my issues stemmed back to my main character’s internal conflict. It wasn’t strong enough and therefore those opening chapters reflected that. So I decided to write three different versions of chapters 1-3. It was hard work, but I think I got closer to solving the problem. Hopefully, you’ll be able to fix the problem without writing three different versions.  



8.       Mission accomplished! You’ve now finished another draft of your beloved manuscript. You read it and it’s all fixed. Yay! Go celebrate! But this was not the way it went with me. I felt I still had problems. I didn’t know what they were but something was still not right.



9.       Try, try again. So…. If this happens, write a new query, synopsis and outline (or plot grid). Then pull out your old versions and compare the two. What changes did you make? How did these changes improve your story? Can you take it to another level?



10.   Get More Feedback. If you’re like me, I decided I needed more feedback from my crit buddies. I resent it to two of the girls and they took another look at it. While they were looking at it, I didn’t even think about the manuscript. Instead, I took a break and started writing another book. I think sometimes, stepping away from a project helps you get a clearer picture of that project later on.



11.   Take a Break! After a few months break I took on the new suggestions that my crit partners gave me. I reread the manuscript with fresh eyes and made the changes I felt were needed.



12.   Send it off! A couple of weeks ago, I sent THE BEAST to my agent. Last week the two of us chatted. It’s still not submission ready, but it’s closer. He had great ideas of how to fix my biggest problems. I’ve been playing around with some different scenarios and seeing which angle will work best. I’ll let you know what happens!

Ultimately, the key to revision is the ability to adapt and be open to change. If you can do those two things, you have a chance to slay THE BEAST before it kills you.

Any revision tips that you have?

15 Responses to Tackling the Killer Manuscript

  1. I can relate to all of this with my last WIP. It went through some pretty heavy rewrites and restructuring, but I really believed in the book, so it was worth it.

  2. I can relate to all of this with my last WIP. It went through some pretty heavy rewrites and restructuring, but I really believed in the book, so it was worth it.

  3. Vijaya says:

    Oh, boy, perfect timing since I am tackling a beautiful, yet beastly book as well … lovelovelove the story, but getting it right is hard.

    When I figure it out, I’ll have some tips. In the meantime, I’ll use yours. Thank you.

  4. this was me with my first finished manuscript. thankfully i did as you outlined and have since gotten it to the point where i’m going to send it to cps again before officially starting to query.

  5. Good luck with the Beast, Christina. I just sent my revised novel back to my agent, and though I feel really good about the story where it’s at now, realistically speaking, I know there will probably be many more rewrites in its future. It is fun to love a story, think it’s done, but then watch it get stronger and stronger with each revision.

  6. Ann Herrick says:

    Sounds like a great plan for tackling a difficult WIP!

  7. Anne M Leone says:

    This is really useful. And I SOOO relate! I’m taking a break from my Beast at the moment. Not sure if I can bear going back–we’ve been through a lot together. But I do see potential in it, too. Guess we’ll find out! Good luck to you!

  8. Karen Strong says:

    Ha, ha. The beast is a good word for it for sure.

    For me, writing the synopsis always helps me find the main plot line. And it always spotlights the gaping holes.

    It always hurts when it’s happening but the story always comes out stronger in the end. Still a pain though. Ugh.

  9. Mirka Breen says:

    I’m reminded of St. George or a fairytale prince slaying the dragon, only this time it’s a beautiful princess (YOU) who is doing battle!

  10. Larissa says:

    Ha! The Beast. You know I love it. 🙂

    I’m girding my loins to get ready to tackle my own revision. *sigh*

    Great post!

  11. Vijaya- Yay! I’m glad my agonies can help you.

    Stina- Yes, there is a time to keep working on a manuscript and a time to put it aside.

    Prerna- oh I’m glad!

    Ruth- thank you and you too.

    Anne- I think we’re kindred spirits.

    Karen- yes, I do know what you mean.

    Mirka- you are sweet! I have to admit I’m a sucker for a good battle scene in a book. Especially if it’s with either a hot guy or a strong herione.

    Larissa- Haha! You go gird those loins girl.

  12. Bish Denham says:

    I’m am embarking upon something VERY different and difficult for me and I LOVE your book layout worksheet. I AM GOING TO USE IT!

  13. But, but, what if you always get it right the first time? Just kidding.

  14. Yay Bish! So happy you can use this. I’m going to try to post my vlog that shows how to use the plotting grid soon.

    Matthew- Funny boy. *shakes head*

  15. Great revision tips–thanks for sharing your process!

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