Manuscript Fixer-Upper

 by Kate Carroll

As a children’s writer, I have files of flawed manuscripts. When I wrote them, I didn’t know they had structural damage, but over time, as they sat in a drawer, and I challenged myself to learn more about craft, I realized these gems could not survive in their current condition.  Now, when I need a change of pace, or new ideas aren’t surfacing, I turn to these old friends and challenge one to a renovation.   


Whether you’re a brand-new writer or a seasoned author, you probably have a manuscript that never made it into the world. Dig into your drawer, your files, maybe your own slush pile and pull out something that hasn’t seen the light of day in a while - a real fixer-upper. Grab your tools and try a makeover. I’ve watched builders whip old things into shape on HGTV shows and Food Channel chefs work wonders with leftovers, so why not renew an old story?


Here is a checklist that might make your something old, new again.

1.      Get ready to demo!

Read your story out loud. A noticeable something may glare at you. Or it may be hidden in the foundation somewhere. Stay with it, even if you must pull everything apart.                    


2.      Exactly how strong is your plot? Will kids care what your story is about? If not, can you twist and turn it so that they will?

What can you do to make it more appealing to kids? We know that the best loved stories are ones that allow a child to think, dream, laugh and grow through the pages.


3.      Does your main character need a tune-up?  Consider these thoughts. What is your main character really like?  Is it a character that a child can see and know? If your character isn’t well fleshed out, there’s a chance that it will remain invisible. Spend some time working on the MC ‘s attributes. Is he silly, magical, naughty, lazy, excited, mean, brave, curious, forgetful? Whoever your main character is, he must be unforgettable to the reader.


4.      Make tension intentional. No matter what age you are writing for, tension matters. Raising the roadblocks that a character encounters keeps the reader rooting for him. Imposing scenes that keep the reader turning the pages is a good goal.


5.      Is your dialogue dynamic? Does your dialogue give information that helps move the manuscript along? Do you create conversations between characters that cause tension? Sophie’s Squash by Pat Z. Miller is a great example of dialogue that increases the angst for Sophie.


6.      Employ the right words. Use writing techniques that help pace your story well. Think of a roller coaster ride. Experience the slow chug of the climb (I’m nervous already), the intensity of the peak, and the thrill of the finish. Using language that mimics this progression is one way that you can help your pacing.  Check out Oh, No! by Candace Fleming & Eric Rohmann.


7.      Be ready to redo if needed. If you’re lucky enough to uncover problems in your story, be prepared to work and rework until the foundation is solid and the details dovetail into a heartwarming finish.  

8.      Inspectors are necessary. Before your work goes into submission, seek final approval from your critique group or a paid editor. Seek honest feedback about your manuscript and accept all suggestions with gratitude. You are not required to use advice from others, but chances are, someone is going to see that one minor flaw that you missed.


I hope all your manuscripts are worthy of publication, but just in case they don’t pass inspection the first time, consider a makeover and see what happens.