Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Extreme Makeover: The Big Build

Guest Post by Julie Mata

The word revision can mean a lot of different things. Maybe your manuscript just needs trimming. Maybe you need to knock down a few walls to provide better flow. Or maybe something more extreme is in order. Think big cranes and earthmovers.

When I finished my novel, Kate Walden Directs: Night of the Zombie Chickens, it was roughly 41,000 words. I was convinced it was pretty close to perfect, especially after several agents asked to see the full manuscript. That’s when reality set in. They liked it but they wanted changes. Big changes. My knee-jerk reaction was to emit a shrill Ha! and do some serious flouncing. As I stewed and simmered, a nugget of wisdom hit me. Agents know what sells. Their job is to test the strength of plot hooks, to analyze character and voice and conflict. Usually, you have to pay for that kind of professional advice. And, it was good advice. So I started to revise.

One agent wished my story was “a bit longer and more complicated,” and she thought “some of the emotional situations weren't addressed well enough…” 
Yeah, it’s pretty vague, but I realized she was right. My story needed more… story. I began to hunt for places where I could add conflict. Those boys who tease one of Kate’s schoolmates? They begin teasing Kate too. And her best friend doesn’t just dump her. They have a big fight in the school hallway. I also ramped up the conflict between Kate and her mother. Each new addition gave me chances to have Kate reflect, to feel sorry or sad or vindicated. As I made the story “more complicated,” my main character came more to life.

Then, I reexamined my “emotional situations.” If the plot points are the bricks of a story, then emotion is the mortar. I had a lot of bricks and not enough mortar to hold it all tightly together. I wrote new scenes and more inner dialogue. In all, I added about 13,000 words. I decided it was ready, again.

I resubmitted to three agents. Each one found new reasons to decline it.  The agent who wanted more complications also passed, but she gave me one last suggestion. It was along the lines of, chop off your family room, move it to the other side of the house, and glue it back on. It meant substantially reworking my plot.  My first reaction was to emit a shrill… well, you know. I came around. Bottom line, she was right. It would improve the story. When I finished rebuilding, my manuscript had expanded to around 60,000 words.

I sent out a fresh round of query letters and found my wonderful agent, Catherine Drayton of Inkwell Management. She sold it as part of a two-book deal to Disney Hyperion. With the help of good advice, I took a one-story house and added on a brand new addition, with more rooms and more levels. I flipped it, and it sold. So the next time you receive thoughtful criticism, feel free to emit a shrill “Ha!” Then, take a big step back and evaluate the feedback. Will it make your story stronger? If the answer is yes, do it. It may mean lopping and chopping. It may mean donning a construction helmet and undertaking a big build. But in the end, you’ll have a much stronger story with a bedrock foundation and, hopefully, a shiny new contract.

Julie Mata's debut middle grade novel, Kate Walden Directs: Night of the Zombie Chickens, hits the bookshelves on May 20th. Julie co-own a film/video production business, where she works as the producer and writer. Previously, she pounded out copy as a television reporter, producer, and freelance writer. She has also owned chickens, although none were zombies, as far as she knows.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed this post. I know what you mean, I finally got my 2 MGs critiqued by a professional. She gave me good advice and even though it hurt, on her suggestion, I cut out an entire chapter (and eventually changed another important part of the story). The manuscripts are much better, but I still need to find a home for them. Finding publishers to send my stories to is the part I dislike. But - they aren't going anywhere fast on my computer - so I must submit!


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