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Distance from a Manuscript Can Open Your Eyes


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A bit of distance can help spot manuscript flaws.

Earlier this week, I stopped by Twitter before getting to work for the day. A friend had posted about getting down to edits on her current project. “I need to make sure that I focus on macro-edits today instead of diving into micro edits.” I totally understand. Micro-edits are so much easier to spot. Our word processors help us by underlining spelling errors, highlighting grammar problems, and even making some changes automatically. 

Macro edits?  Those take careful reading an analysis to locate. 

Back in May, I posted about macro-edits. Those are the big-picture items that are all about pacing and structure, characterization, and setting. Are your characters sympathetic? Do your beginning and ending work together? Does your manuscript lag in the middle? All this and so much more can come up when looking at the big picture.

On the day my friend posted about making macro-edits, I was reading over a graphic novel manuscript that I hadn’t touched in over a year. It languished while I worked on other things, but my writing instructor has agreed to take a look at it, and I wanted to make a quick run through the manuscript before sending it to her. 

As I remembered, the ending was a little weak, but, other than that, the manuscript was sound. I could tackle it and have it read to go out by lunch. Are you laughing hysterically yet? 

Atom Mom is a picture book graphic novel about a group of children who want to do something special for their mom. She’s a superhero, and all the responsibilities of being everything to everyone are weighing her down. 

But a year’s absence meant that I was seeing my manuscript with new eyes. It didn’t take me long to realize that the beginning of the story just didn’t sing. With triplets as the main characters, I was constantly shifting from character to character to work then all in. Allegedly each had a unique personality, but one of them faded into the background. It won’t take long to delete her, but it will also mean reshaping the remaining characters. A remaining character will need to take on her few essential tasks. 

If only this was all I spotted. My secondary characters include a pair of teen siblings. I don’t need them both because they are doing the work of a single character. Sorry, boys. One of you needs to hit the road. 

In addition to removing characters, I’m going to have to rename two of them. I have a pair of names that are too similar, and another name is painfully cliché. It seemed clever at the time, but now it just seems cringeworthy. 

By the time I finished my read-through, I had a list of things to rework. And sadly? They were all macro-edits, big picture items that I hadn’t spotted when I was working on the manuscript on a regular basis. Absence had made these problems glaringly obvious. 

Sigh. I miss the good old days when I only spotted micro-edits. I could have been shifting commas and coming up with a better word for “fling.” Fortunately, that will all be waiting for me when I’m done with the bigger fixes. Only then will it be time to move on to fine-tuning the manuscript and helping my characters fling their problems into the stratosphere. 

--SueBE


Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 30 books for young readers.  To find out more about her writing, visit her site and blog, One Writer's Journey.

The next session of her new course, Pitching, Querying and Submitting Your Work will begin on August 7, 2022).  Coping with rejection is one of the topics she will cover in this course.

Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins August 7, 2022) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins August 7, 2022). 

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