Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Capitalizing on the Strengths in Your Manuscript

John Sloan--Six o' Clock, Winter 1912 Over a week ago, I wrote a post about figuring out what your specialty is as a writer—realizing what you’re especially good at writing and then writing it.

But I think it’s also helpful to be able to look at our story with enough objectivity to determine the strengths within a manuscript, too. That requires us to narrow it down even a little farther than our general strengths.

I know that my characters are my strengths.

But which characters are strongest?

Early in a manuscript, I look really hard at my characters and seen which are stronger than others…just naturally stronger. They seem to always get the best and funniest lines. They steal the spotlight.

I’ve upgraded some characters to more important roles. Once I even took a less important character and turned her into my protagonist because she was stronger than my protagonist—and I “got” the character. I nailed the character automatically—the kind of person she was, her sense of humor, what she liked doing in her spare time….I knew it all intuitively.

My latest project, I even brought a character back from the dead.

She was supposed to be my second victim in the mystery. But she hung on with tenacity to every scene. My editor loved her and heaped praise on her (not knowing from the short sample I’d sent that she was going to die later in the book. ) She wouldn’t die. And, honestly, she was such a strong character that she didn’t need to die—she was going to be a selling point for readers to read the next book in the series. Why would I kill her—for shock value? And then I’m stuck—a charismatic character would be dead and she could have helped me out with future plots.

So she was only assaulted, not murdered. And I gave her more lines and built a subplot for her, too.

The same holds true for other manuscript strengths. Is the romantic element in your book making the project strong? Increase it. Is the page-turning suspense the strongest element in your manuscript? Increase the suspense. Is conflict driving your plot? Add more conflict.

What’s making your manuscript strong?