Flaubert once said, “Words, like hair, shine with combing” and I have to agree. (Not that I really know who Flaubert was. I’m guessing he ended up bald but accomplished.) Something that helped me whip my last novel into shiny, sellable shape was a little gem of a book called Novel Metamorphosis: Uncommon Ways to Revise by author/teacher Darcy Pattison.
It’s a paperback work-book filled with helpful tips that guides you through a thorough examination of your already finished novel. I mean, you’ll really strip it down to the studs and rebuild it into a much stronger piece. But be prepared to work your pencil off! Plot, character, language, setting, voice – you’re really going to delve.
One exercise that takes you out of the work-book is a technique called the Shrunken Manuscript where you print out your entire novel single-spaced in the tiniest font possible and lay it out across the floor to view it as a whole. (At first I thought, Yeah, right – that’s not gonna happen. But I followed through and it turned out to be fun and fruitful.) You use colored markers to highlight the strongest chapters so you can see the proportion of text in them compared with the weaker chapters. But that’s just for starters. According to Pattison, “You can use the Shrunken Manuscript to evaluate anything that you want to visualize across the novel: settings where two characters interact, the percentage of dialogue, places where you repeat a certain setting, places where the theme is made obvious, etc.” Very cool. Just make sure your kitty is locked in another room when you do this or things can get ugly.
Another particularly enjoyable aspect of this book is that you’re encouraged – no, required to write all over the pages just like grade-school workbooks. Very hands on. Truth be told, I was always sneaking out my miniature-golf sized pencil and scribbling through exercises while I served on a Grand Jury (during downtime only, I swear – and there was plenty of downtime.) But since I’m telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, I did notice quite a few typos in this book – like, “I did done a good job of using active verbs…” Eesh. Come on, copyeditors. Other than that, they did done a good job!
Check out Darcy’s blog, FICTION NOTES, at www.darcypattison.com.