Revision: What’s Wrong With Your Manuscript and How to Fix It!

So you’ve finished the first draft of your young adult novel. Where do you go from here? Well take a few cues from editor Anica Rissi, (from Simon Pulse) who shared her insights on how to identify what’s wrong with your manuscript and then fix it. She spoke at the 2009 SCBWI Los Angeles Conference. The following tips on rewriting are all based on Anica’s personal opinion and preferences and she assures you that there will always be others to negate what she has to say.

After You’ve Finished Your First Draft…

  • When writing a first draft always let it flow and let it all come out. Don’t worry about any of the following advice until you are ready to revise.
  • That said, Anica never wants to read your first draft!
  • After you’ve finished your first draft put it away for a minimum of three weeks. Preferably three months. You need to get some distance from the work. Then you will be ready to revise as you are able to see the work with new eyes.

Writing is About Discipline…

  • “If you think writing is easy, you may not be writing well.” – Rissi
  • Writing is about practice. Exercises will help you. Try and find a routine and use exercises to get your creative juices flowing.
  • When you are writing don’t stop when you are stuck or frustrated as you may not come back again the next day. Always stop when you are excited, so you want to write the next day.

Revise the Beginning…

  • As you revise your beinning you will want to start your book with conflict and tension. Start your book with something the audience can think about or ponder – mystery, a question, an explosion, action! You want to capture your audience so they will follow you to the next place you want to take them.
  • Start your book with a strong voice. Start with a question. Your goal is to raise questions in the audience to entice them to keep reading, to hook them in the first page, in the first sentence! Give the audience something to hold on to and want to explore.
  • Personal Pete Peeve: Do not start a story with a character that wakes up from a dream.
  • Write in the NOW! Start now. Don’t start in the past or in the future, be present!
  • Start you book with your character in a real situation. Introduce that character to us by showing us how they react to the situation. Don’t tell us who the character is. We want to meet the character in real life! Put your character in a situation that has forward momentum, so we want to see where the character is going. We want to see the character interact in everyday life and not see his/her resume. Show not tell.
  • Give some sense of where the story is going and what is at stake within the first few paragraphs or pages. What does this book/character care about and why? Show it!
  • Mistake Rissi often sees is too much back story and too little plot moving forward.

Think About the Overall Arc of Your Story…

  • Your story must always have two ideas to pull it forward. “One idea is not enough for a story, you need two ideas. You need two sticks to rub against one another to start a fire.” These two ideas or “sticks” should be the plot storyline and the emotional storyline. Together they intertwine and create the friction and tension and story.
  • Your characters MUST change!
  • Be sure to cross (interweave) your internal and external conflict.
  • You know when your manuscript is “ready” or “done” when you can explain what it is about in one sentence. You can tell the plot and emotional arc in one sentence.

Focus on Your Teen Voice…

  • Stay in the head of your protagonist! Don’t jump into the head of another character. It pulls one out of the experience/story. Don’t “look back.” Don’t be the adult looking back and reflecting on what has happened before. That robs the story of its immediacy and tells us that the character grows up to be said age of adult narrator. Teen lives don’t see that far into the future there is only the here and now and the immediate moment.
  • Emotions are universal. We all feel sadness, fear, happiness, etc.  How one experiences or feels those emotions are specific to the individual. This is part of voice and what shows the uniqueness of your character and makes an emotion feel authentic.
  • You are never allowed to tell the audience your character’s “good” or “bad” qualities. No explaining of emotions either. Show!!! Telling is boring. Being obvious is the quickest way to be dull. (Check out blog: www.sherylklein.com)

Revise Your Dialog…

  • Read your dialog out loud! Keep your dialog moving. Don’t put in meaningless banter. Show your character through gesture and word choice and avoid using adverbs.
  • He said – using the tag “said” is okay!! This is a word that starts to disappear. Other replacement words “explained”, “blurted”, “screamed”,  become more obvious and disrupt the flow. Ask yourself if you really need the other word.
  • Look out for curse words as they really stick out on the page. More may seem normal in regular dialog, but they pop out on the page.
  • Look out for “you know” or “like.” You also will probably have a word that you personally use all the time. Have a friend find it for you so you can get rid of it and use it less.
  • Your characters don’t need to smile, grin, or nod all the time. These also become repetitive. Trust that the reader can “hear” the smile in your dialog.

Respect Your Reader…

  • TRUST – trust yourself and your readers. They will get it.  Take out the specifics of how you want the reader to read a passage. Let the audience have and interpret their own experience as they read your book.
  • Beware of using a journal or blog as it is often a transparent device that does not work.
  • Don’t keep secrets from the reader if the character knew the secret all along. It create an unreliable narrator and a sense of betrayal at the end of the book.

Tighten Everything Up…

  • Everyone tends to either write too much or too little. Find out which one you are.
  • Tighten up every line. Ask yourself what does this sentence do that I don’t already know?
  • It is your details that will separate your story from any old story. Ask yourself what is different about your story. Identify what is different or individual in your scenes. Find out what makes your world/story specific and not universal. What is specific about the way you are writing it? This should be a story that no one else could ever write.
  • Symbols – be aware of your symbolic choices and your choices that could be unintentionally misconstrued as symbolic. Be aware of common experience and your character’s experience in regards to symbolism.

Working With Edgy Content…

  • Rissi likes to publish “edgy” books and she doesn’t shy away from topics like sex and drugs or heavy material. However, the “edgy” parts of the books must come naturally from the story and not be there simply because “edgy is in.” The story must be real.
  • Anica publishes books that have sex and drugs in them, but she also likes books that are sweet and clean. In regards to edgy content, don’t put it in to be trendy. If you use edgy content it must come from the story and be natural and truthful to your characters and world.

Anica Rissi is a senior editor at Simon Pulse and publishes young adult fiction. She used to be an editor at Scholastic before joining Simon Pulse. She likes quirky humor, smart writing, compelling stories, and characters she can’t get out of her head. Recent acquisitions include: Hallow by Jessica Verday, Crash Into Me by Albert Borris, Pure by Terra Evan McVoy, and Nothing Like You by Laurent Strasnick. Rissi does not accept unsoliceted submisions. You must have an agent to send her your work.

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2 thoughts on “Revision: What’s Wrong With Your Manuscript and How to Fix It!

  1. Pingback: Favorite Blogs of the Week « Life, the Universe, and Writing

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