So, the Manuscript Magic test has officially begun. And, I have to say that I am enjoying the program, learning a lot and, for the first time, really enjoying revision process.
Yes, that’s right.
I’m having fun.
First off, the program is well set up. Writer and editor Bonne Johnston discusses various writing issues on video (for ex. how to solve a slow opening, how to fix boring characters, how to eliminate too much backstory or exposition) and each module includes a PDF version of the topic that includes questions and solutions to resolve those issues.
(As I listened to the videos, it helped to think about the story as a first draft and not a finished novel I wrote 8 years ago. It made the grievous mistakes I made easier to swallow!)
Anyway, the module videos are very helpful. The videos are short. I haven’t watched them all but they usually run about 8-20 minutes. The PDFs are printable, downloadable, and fillable.
Bonnie made a point in one of the videos that I appreciated. She said that it’s normal for writers to make certain mistakes in a draft, especially if the writer is in Exploratory Writing Mode.
I know this, but it was still good to hear it.
When I start a new project, I’m usually inspired by a feeling, a phrase, or a picture but have no idea where to take it so I write to see what develops. Writing like that is freeing, but I end up over-explaining developing ideas, which causes info dumps, stagnant patches, over-description, or the character being overly introspective. As freeing as being a ‘pantser’ can be, I think it can contribute to frustration and dread of pending revisions, especially for perfectionists (me!). Yes, it’s satisfying to write passionately about a subject, but deep down I know a lot of what I’ve written just isn’t good. So, for me, Bonnie’s point normalized this writing pattern and presented it in a way that actually served a purpose (getting ideas on the page and actually finishing the MS) while offering hope that with the program’s help, I’ll have the tools needed to make lemonade from lemons.
Last night, I started the analysis of the manuscript for The Eagle’s Gift (TEG). I went through it scene by scene and wrote down some basic info about each, while noting what I didn’t like as well as my own solutions. Luckily, the MS is short (12 chapters) so this didn’t take too long. In just over an hour, I had produced a working outline and had identified the preliminary problems.
This morning, I went on to step 2: completing the MM checklist. This was quick, and I completed it during my daughter’s karate course and still had time to spare. In the checklist, I responded to specific questions about each scene, which ultimately identified specific structural problems in need of fixing before moving forward with the fine tuning and polish (style and flow, line editing, etc.).
I appreciated this because as a pantser, I often write from a place of inspiration and no fixed outline or story structure. So, when I’m trying to edit, I get lost in how to solve the problems I sense but can’t see. For the first time, I felt I was actually working in a productive, targeted manner.
After the checklist, I used the diagnostic tool, where the Fixes for the story’s problems are presented. Bonnie’s videos and the PDFs I mentioned previously facilitate the process without telling you what to do. In the MM process, the suggestions help the writer come up with solutions that he or she deems appropriate to the story being written.
Ok, so that’s about the program description and process. What about the results?
I had mentioned that TEG was a failed manuscript. Reading over the various versions 8 years later, it was clear why the story failed. But, I also realized that, at this point in my life, I didn’t want to write that story anymore. The problem I had examined in that story was answered in the Rise of the Papilion Trilogy, which is self-published.
Another thing Bonnie mentioned (and we’ve all heard this before) is that when you cut something from a story, you can either put it aside or find a way to reuse it. With that in mind, I decided to put the original story aside. There are some beautifully written parts amidst some bad parts, and I am attached to it all. But I had to remind myself that even if I cut sections, they still exist on file and I can reread them anytime I like.
Then I had another flash. I didn’t like the MC. As she was, Charlotte didn’t fit the new story I want to tell.
What to do, what to do?
I have another WIP called The Dragon’s Egg (TDE). I love the main characters. They are fully realized with backstories, have relatable motivations, etc. but I’ve never been able to come up with a satisfying story for them.
So, the stroke of genius: Why not harvest Slevyn, Shasta, and Dorit from TDE and transplant them into TEG, which is complete, and build a new story around them?
That got me excited. Up until I started this post, I was busily making character notes in preparation for the necessary adaptations—again, a huge deal for someone who hates to plan stories. But that’s another benefit of this process: I have accepted that I am in Editing/Revision Mode rather than Writing Mode, and so planning has finally become acceptable.
So far, I am happy with the MM process. Learning to think analytically about my writing and having tools to identify and fix issues on a story level is a relief. I actually feel empowered. After so many years, I finally feel hopeful about being able to bring closure to two failed manuscripts. Further, I am now faced with the possibility of producing an even better product by combining elements from each into something new rather than continuing to force two unsuccessful projects to completion.
I’ll probably be stuck at the rewriting phase for a bit, so I am not sure when I’ll be posting another update. But I can say that I’ve already gained a lot in the short time I’ve used the program, and I’m eager to see how it can help as I move forward with this new project.
Until the next update!