The year is almost over - time to start over!
Earlier this year I really thought I had put the finishing touches on a query-able draft of my manuscript. After writing extensive notes, outlines, and to-fix lists, I had tweaked my last tweak. Something weighed down my fingers, though, making it an Olympian feat of strength to simply hit send on anything.
Here's some free advice from a hobbyist who has yet to publish anything - when you think you are finished, you're only beginning. I'm sure even the pros would agree with this sentiment since reviewing your work is common sense. For my fellow aspiring authors, I'll expand the point a bit - just because it's a been a long time and you feel you should be done, you're probably like me -- meaning you got a problem.
This was pretty much the state I was in when I forced myself to look back at my draft. I was not thrilled to acknowledge that after nearly two years of fine-tuning, my book still had tons of unresolved issues. Evil never dies, y'all.
After accepting the daunting challenge of retooling my manuscript yet again, I got in the trenches of rewriting. I stripped away irrelevant plotlines with surgical precision. I streamlined story elements. I changed, rearranged, removed, and edited... again. I switched up and stitched up my MS, this time with my eyes on the bigger prize: a better book. When revising, ask yourself hard questions. Who is the story really about? Are some POVs there just because you like the idea of them, or do they actually serve the story?
This was pretty much me very recently after I finally fixed the opening sequence to my story. The introduction to the main character, the building of the world, and establishing plot points had gone through the ringer in my mind for well over a year. To celebrate this achievement? I went a little insane and moved on to the next chapter full of errors. I sooooo wish the query letter was just the author frantically describing how much better this version is than the original, if you could only just see!!!! Please believe me!! I'm not crazy!!!!
Revisions come with questions, of course, and the ongoing conundrum most writers are facing now is just how modern does their story need to be? My young adult superhero yarn takes place in a fictionalized city in an exaggerated world, so I am less concerned with including real life events. If I was writing a manuscript that took place in our reality, then I would be facing a dilemma:
Should you include COVID?
Again, my MS is in a universe that is not meant to be ours, so I can essentially get away with not including any IRL event. If you've been planning your story since before the outbreak, chances are the pandemic would force you to put your characters on their head and turn their world upside down. Shoehorning such a cataclysmic, immense, and undeniable event in the course of human history is ill-advised.
"Can Roger ever forgive me for stealing the ancient talisman? How can I choose between two people vying for my affection? Is everyone wearing their masks?"
It's awkward, putting it mildly. Reading is escapism, and for a lot of people, the last thing they want to read about is more about the virus. If you don't have the coronavirus in your MS, my initial thought is to simply not mention it in the synopsis or at all. That can potentially leave a reader confused, though. A disclaimer feels even more odd. Modeling after success is the way to go. Which leads to my ultimate suggestion (which sounds like a lame heavy metal album):
When you revise, ask big, uncomfortable questions. The main one, and maybe only one you really need, is "How does this serve the story?"
Sound like a bunch of stuff you already know? I certainly thought I knew. Turns out the biggest lesson I've learned in 2020 so far is "You know nothing, Jon McBrine!'
I do, however, know that my story - and your story - is worth finishing and worth telling. So, let's get back to work!