Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Rearranging Things

blog75 Yesterday I was cooking and opened a cabinet for a Corningware dish.

It wasn’t there.

After a lot of looking, I found it in a completely different location of the kitchen in a cabinet I rarely use.

Did I have a mild stroke before putting it away? Was I under the influence of allergy medication?

Oh. No, my husband had unloaded the dishwasher for me. I reminded myself that that was nice of him. Although he doesn’t seem to know where anything goes.

Then I looked at the location he’d chosen for the dish. He’s the rational side of my brain—which I completely outsourced to him since I’m not very rational. The storage location made very good sense—it was closer to the food preparation area of the kitchen. It was in an uncluttered cabinet, meaning there was less chance of the bowl being broken. It was actually a better location.

Sometimes I get so focused on the way my manuscript is, that I don’t see the possibilities for what it could be.

This seems to happen a lot with a story’s timeline. One of the last books I wrote seemed weak at the beginning, but I couldn’t pinpoint why. The character introduction had gone well, and I’d brought in a little conflict.

I decided to take the discovery of the murdered body and move it up fifteen pages.

This completely changed the beginning of the book. The characters needed to be introduced in a totally different way—one that revolved around the victim more. Because the murder victim wasn’t the most popular person (they rarely are in mysteries), this meant more tension and conflict at the beginning of the book.

Obviously, this is time-consuming—not something you’re going to want to take on unless you notice a weakness in your novel. It’s like reorganizing the kitchen—do you really want to take that kind of task on unless you can see a possible real benefit?

If you do want to rearrange some storylines or events in your book, here are some ways to approach it:

Have a first reader take a look at the manuscript. At the very least, they can point out places where your story dragged. Those are the very spots that might benefit from either adding conflict or reordering the storyline to bring conflict forward and increase the pace.

Take a break from the manuscript and come back later with fresh eyes. It doesn’t have to be a really long break…even a couple of days can help.

I’ve now heard several writers rave over the shrunken manuscript method. Basically, you remove the chapter breaks, single space the whole thing, and reduce the font until the story takes up about 30 pages. Using a highlighter, mark your strongest chapters. You put the manuscript down on the floor in 3 rows of 10 sheets and take a look at the big picture. This is a post from A.B.Fenner who used this method to find and fix problem areas.

Timelines can also be useful to pinpoint problems. Having trouble summing up what’s going on for a particular place in your timeline? That’s an indication there’s an issue, right there.

Have you done any major reorganizing of storylines lately? How did you approach it?