15 Nov

Shrunken Manuscript

As part of my Novel Revision retreat, I ask writers to shrink their manuscripts. Several people asked if I would post clear instructions on how to do the Shrunken Manuscript. This uncommon revision technique — and so many other revision techniques — are included in my book, Novel Metamorphosis: Uncommon Ways to Revise.

So, here are the simple instructions:

Read more: More Shrunken Manuscripts.

Instructions for the Shrunken Manuscript Strategy

  1. Take out the chapter breaks, so there is no white space between chapters.
  2. Single space the entire mss.
  3. Reduce the font of the mss until the mss takes up about 30 pages. This is arbitrary, of course, but I find that I can see about 30 pages at a time. It doesn’t matter if the font is readable; you’re trying to shrink the mss so you can mark certain things and you won’t be reading it but evaluating how these things fit into the big picture. If your mss runs over 40,000 words, you can try putting it into two columns in order for it to fit into 30 pages. If your mss is over 50,000 pages, you may need to divide it into two sections and evaluate 30-shrunken pages at a time.
  4. Use a bright, wide marker and put an X over the strongest chapters.

    Note: Actually, you can use the Shrunken Manuscript to evaluate anything that you want to visualize across the novel: places where two characters interact, the percentage of dialogue, places where you repeat a certain setting, places where the theme is made obvious, etc.

  5. Lay out the mss pages on the floor in about three rows of ten. (Adjust layout to your page count, of course.)
  6. Stand back and evaluate.

Of course, everything is arbitrary and I’ve just made up rules to fit my mss. Change anything you need to fit your mss. But these guidelines generally work well for most mss.

Questions to consider:

  • Are there large gaps between chapters marked on the Shrunken Mss?
  • Are the strongest chapters spread out or do you have the dreaded Sagging Middle?
  • How long are the strongest chapters? Do they include the Obligatory Scene?
  • Are there several weak chapters in a row?
  • What does this visualization tell you about the revisions needed?

Read more: More Shrunken Manuscripts.

25 thoughts on “Shrunken Manuscript

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  7. Thanks for posting about the Shrunken MSS. I found it a very useful technique. Interesting and fun!

    I don’t have a printer, so I used the highlighter in the Formatting Palette and saved my document as a PDF. I was then able to evaluate my MSS using the thumbnail drawer of the PDF. The thumbnails really shrink the MSS. Like a mini-me of the Shrunken MSS!

    But it works great! And it’s Green! I posted about it on my blog with links back to your site as well as Kate’s


    Thanks for the help!

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