Tag Archives: shrunken manuscript

25 Feb

Hot Potato: Let that Manuscript Cool Off

You type, “The End.”
Then, you write a fast letter to an editor and send off a couple sample chapters.

You forgot one thing. That manuscript needs to cool off before you send it out.
It is the single, hardest thing for me to do. I do not want to wait and besides that, I KNOW the revisions I just did are fantastic and the editor will be dying to read it. Yes? No.

Sadly, I send out material before it is ready. When I wait and read something even a week later, I find so many more things to revise.

Repeated words. Subconsciously, I fall in love with this word or that and it repeated endlessly. I don’t notice this unless the mss has rested a while and then, the words stick out like pimples. My goal is to cut that repetition to a single instance. After all, a single pimple isn’t bad, it’s the allover pimple face that’s bad. Two words I constantly overuse are bit and whirl: She whirled around a bit before settling down. Not bad, until she whirls 13.5 times per chapter.

Spelling and Grammar. OK, all you grammar witches. I know you are out there, because you email me all the time. My blog posts tend to be more off the cuff and I pay for it in humiliation every time a Grammar Witch reports in. (NOTE: I LOVE you, Grammar Witch. I am yours to command. I just WISH I had your eye for detail.) My remedial Grammar Witch glasses only work well when a mss has cooled off a while. Then, things pop out at me.

Darcy, sporting slightly askew Grammar Witch Glasses.

Pacing. I am much better at spotting pacing problems after something has cooled off. It is the places where I–the author–lose interest and start skimming. Oh, that’s bad when I can’t even keep myself entertained. On the other hand, I often find places to slow down, to zoom in and let the reader feel more emotions. Either way, I need the story to sit a while before I can spot these.

Vague, Unsettled Dissatisfaction. It’s hard to say exactly what this is, because it varies with each manuscript. Just–something is wrong. Off. I can usually pinpoint what that is and fix it. But when I can’t do that immediately, I start analysis, such as the Shrunken Manuscript or using other tools from Novel Metamorphosis. Because I must find and fix whatever it is. Usually–there’s something and it’s not a minor something. I just can’t see it right away.

What about you? Do you let a manuscript cool off?

21 Jan

FN 001: Shrunken Manuscript – 6 Ways to See Your Manuscript

Welcome to the first Fiction Notes Podcast, where you’ll learn six ways to use the Shrunken Manuscript.

I teach a novel revision retreat; in order to attend, you must have a complete draft of a novel and we spend the weekend talking about how to revise that manuscript. The workbook for that is Novel Metamorphosis: Uncommon Ways to Revise. Traditionally, we only go into depth on the Shrunken Manuscript technique in the retreat, but for the first time publicly, I’m going to explain six ways to use the Shrunken Manuscript. It’s a fitting topic for Fiction Notes’ first Podcast.

ShowNotes for Fiction Notes 001: Shrunken Manuscript

1:45 Instructions on Shrinking a Manuscript
3:32 Seeing your strongest chapters
8:49 Seeing your major plot points
11:49 Seeing your antagonist v. protagonist
14:22 Seeing your character arc
17:17 Seeing your scenes
18:42 Seeing your novel’s pacing

Items Mentioned in this Podcast:

Need more information on revising a manuscript?

Podcast FAQ

How do I listen to the podcast?
You can listen to it by simply clicking on the arrow on the Podcast PlayLink.
You can also download the podcast and play it on your iPod, iPhone, etc.
You can embed the podcast onto other websites. If you do this, please let me know! (darcy at darcypattison dot come).

The podcast will soon be syndicated on iTunes and when it is syndicated, you can use a variety of apps to download and listen to it from a variety of platforms, such as iPod, iPhone, iPad, Android, etc.

11 May

Novel Metamorphosis: Uncommon Ways to Revise


Congratulations! You’ve finished the first draft of a novel.

What an accomplishment! But now what?


“I didn’t realize I didn’t know anything about revising until I took Darcy’s Novel Revision Retreat. I finally “got it” that reworking a manuscript is not revising. To revise something means to re-vision it, to see it through a new lens. The workshop and the Novel Metamorphosis workbook moved me from wordsmith to novel writer.”

– Kirby Larson, author of Hattie Big Sky, winner of the 2007 Newbery Honor Book Award (the highest award given to children’s novels by the American Library Association). Kirby had been writing for nearly 20 years and had published four chapter books and a picture book before writing – and revising – Hattie Big Sky (Delacorte). This story sold in ten-days-flat to the first editor who saw it.


Follow simple instructions to:

  • Systematically inventory and diagnosis your first draft
  • Visually manipulate your draft to diagnose problems and recognize strengths
    • Shrunken Manuscript
    • Plot with a Spreadsheet
    • Box Scenes into a Plot
    • Colorful Sensory Details


After the first draft is diagnosed, use simple writing techniques and tips to plan specific revisions:

  • Create a character that stays with your reader for years — fascinating and memorable
  • Strengthen the story plot, the narrative and emotional arcs
  • Sharpen dialogue
  • Morph dull settings into better backdrops that set the mood
  • Strengthen the pacing to keep readers interested
  • Bring to life narrated events by selecting the right details
  • Use language with confidence
  • Add depth with narrative patterning

SUCCESS STORY: Revision Equals a Better Book

“I attended Darcy’s Novel Revision Workshop in July 2006. I revamped the entire story using the techniques Darcy taught in the workbook. The very first editor who read the revised manuscript bought the book.”

— , Kristin O’Donnell Tubb, author of Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different (Delacorte, 2008). Read Tubb’s success story: writing a better book


In 1999, writer and writing teacher Darcy Pattison created the Novel Revision Retreat to meet the needs of struggling novelists. Since then, her passionate teaching has touched writers nationwide as she encouraged them, “I believe in your story.” Her teaching has taken her around the nation: Hawaii, California, Washington, Arizona, Michigan, Georgia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, and Louisiana.


Order from Amazon
Order from Amazon

  • Foreword by Newbery Honor novelist, Kirby Larson
  • First Drafts: Why Revise?
  • The Novel Inventory
  • Story Plot
  • Create a Character
  • Choosing Details
  • Language
  • Setting
  • Depth
  • Your Revision Plan
  • Homework
  • Recommended Reading
  • Appendixes
  • Index

Recommended by
Barbara Seuling, Author and Writing Teacher

“I found many books useful, but I found your NOVEL METAMORPHOSIS absolutely the best for a workshop. For the first time in 18 years of doing The Manuscript Workshop in Vermont, I offered one this year for novels – for those who had a first draft or more that needed revision. The most interesting session was the one where we dealt with the Shrunken Manuscript, and we were all really impressed about how much we learned from this hands on activity.”
Barbara Seuling, Director
The Manuscript Workshop in Vermont www.barbaraseuling.com

Read Success Stories

This workbook is used in my Novel Revision Retreats. Read success stories — stories of debut novels — coming out of the retreat.

15 Jun

Uma Krishnaswami: Shrunken Manuscript

My Novel Revision Retreats rely heavily upon the Shrunken Manuscript technique. Basically, you use the magic of word processors to shrink the font of the mss until you can see the big picture of the story.

Uma Krishnaswami used a variation of the technique in revising her new novel. Here’s a look at Uma’s writing process for The Grand Plan to Fix Everything (Atheneum).

Uma Krishnaswami’s Shrunken Manuscript

The Grand Plan Book Trailer

Uma Talks about The Grand Plan Book

25 Apr

Carole Estby Dagg 2K11

Carole Estby Dagg debuts with THE YEAR WE WERE FAMOUS

Introduced first in 2007, debut children’s authors have formed a cooperative effort to market their books. I featured Revision Stories from the Classes of 2k8 and 2k9 and this feature returns this year with the Class of 2k11.

Guest post by Carole Estby Dagg

Big Picture Revision

The Year We Were Famous came out on April 4, 2011, fifteen years after my first rejection on it. The publishing world calls it my debut novel, but it is not my first book. I have written the same story at least a dozen different ways over those fifteen years: as non-fiction, fiction, daughter’s point of view, mother’s point of view, in third person, first person, sassy voice, restrained voice, as an episodic adventure story, as a mother-daughter story, and in various combinations of all of the preceding.

I thought I had an adventure story. After all, my main characters, Clara Estby and her mother, Helga, had walked from Washington State to New York City back in 1896. They had been caught in snow-storms, lost in the Snake River Lava Fields without food or water; they had been assaulted by a highwayman, camped out with Indians, visited president-elect William McKinley and his wife in their home…wasn’t that a tale of adventure?

Two-Page Rejection

Nine years into writing and rejections, one editor took the time to write a two-page rejection letter. She told me I didn’t just have an adventure story, I had a coming-of-age story. I flailed around with it for a year and got nowhere. I still had a book that was edging toward 400 pages and had no focus. Understandably, that editor rejected my resubmission.

My acquiring editor at Clarion suggested making a worksheet listing each major scene and providing columns for the external journey (where my characters were in space and time, and what happened to them) major plot points (where my characters were in the narrative arc), and the interior journey (how events affected them). If a scene didn’t advance the plot or character as well as describing what was happening to my characters, the scene had to go.

Looking at one page at a time, though, I had a hard time applying my editor’s advice. Luckily, it was during this process that I took Darcy Pattison’s novel revision class and applied a combination of her shrunken manuscript and novel inventory techniques. (See her book for details.)

On my shrunken manuscript, I marked passages with strong emotion, conflict, and action in different colors and circled passages that were the most essential for the narrative and emotional arcs. Looking at my hundreds of pages spread out on the floor, I didn’t even have to read the words; I just looked for color. Where there was only black and white, I had nothing but expendable external action. Those passages had to be ramped up to include emotion and conflict or deleted.

It still wasn’t easy. But once I’d pruned 250 pages of deadwood I had more than an episodic adventure story; I had the story of a young woman coming into her own.

12 Jun

Shrunken Picture Book

How I Shrunk my Picture Book Manuscript – and Why I’ll Do It Again!

by Lee Wind

At a schmooze of the SCBWI Tri-Regions of Southern California, discussion ranged far and wide, pulling info and tips from many sources. Lee Wind showed a shrunken manuscript of a picture book, complete with glitter, colors and stickers. The report says, “It helped him look at pacing, consistency, internal and external arcs…”

I originally developed the Shrunken Manuscript Technique to help writers see the overall structure of a novel. Here, it shrinks a picture book to a couple pages. I wondered how this is different from using a thumbnail layout, so I asked Lee to explain.

Shrink a 530 word picture book manuscript? But it’s already so short!

I wondered if I would actually learn anything at all from the exercise.

I decided to try it anyway, so I could discuss it at the schmooze on revision that I was co-coordinating, having read about the idea, among other places, here at Darcy’s amazing blog!

I made the font size 6pt, changed the margins so all the text would be in a two inch wide column down the left side, and sat down with the printout like an enthusiastic kindergartner with stickers,
highlighters, and glitter dots.

It came out to three pages long. I taped them together, took a ruler and drew a black line where I imagined page breaks.

Shrunken Picture Books, Photo by Rita Crayon Huang

Shrunken Picture Books, Photo by Rita Crayon Huang

And then I got out the pink highlighter. I drew a square around the
scenes I thought were really GREAT. As you can see, I had three in the beginning, and six at the end, and NOTHING but NOTHING in the middle. (the very bottom was a “key” for myself to explain what all my symbols meant.)

Then I got out these cool pink glitter dots. I put those on scenes
where I got “goosebumps” – scenes that really packed an emotional punch. I had two in the beginning. A big stretch of NOTHING in the middle. And then three scattered at the end.

I was starting to see a pattern.

Then I took out my “tiger” stickers (you know those return address
labels you get for free with nonprofit mailings – the ones with the
photos of wildlife by your name? They’re the perfect size to cut out
and use for this!)

And I put tiger stickers on every scene my antagonist (bad guys)
showed up. There they were, in the beginning and in the end.

I did more stickers, and quickly discovered that the part of my story
that was “working” was actually NOT the part of the story I wanted to emphasize. My “real” main character, in my mind, didn’t even show up in dialog until, um… page 4. See in the photo, that scene that starts off the middle, with absolutely NO pink box, or glitter dot, or tiger sticker? That’s where my “real” main character took center

Yikes! I was telling the WRONG character’s story.

I also put in stuff about locations, to make sure there were varied
enough possibilities for the illustrator, but really, once I figured out that I needed to re-do the story so it really was the story of my
younger character, I was itching to do a complete re-write.

I think if I had just done a list of my scenes (like an outline) and
worked from that, without shrinking the actual manuscript, I could
have missed this entirely, because my main character – in my mind- was present in the first three scenes, but as an observer. Having the actual manuscript with dialog and everything right there made me
realize she wasn’t really the focus of the beginning of the book, and
that’s a problem I might not have seen so clearly without shrinking
the manuscript.

So, was it useful? Absolutely.

Would I do it again? I’m getting my highlighter and stickers out
right now. Time to shrink the next draft!

Thanks for coming along with me on this virtual shrunken manuscript
journey. And Darcy, thank you for the opportunity to share my
experience with your readers!


ps- Appreciation to Rita Crayon Huang for the awesome photo of me
holding up my shrunken picture book manuscript at our schmooze on

Lee Wind is a writer who blogs about Gay Teen Books, Culture and
Politics at “I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell do I Read?

06 Mar

Revisions Take Time

Shrunken Manuscript

Shrunken Manuscript at Illinois Novel Revision Retreat

Take Time to Revise

Jim Danielson, who attended last weekend’s Illinois retreat, has also posted a picture of a shrunken manuscript.

Here are other links for the Shrunken Manuscript technique:

Intensive feedback, like you get in a weekend retreat, can be overwhelming and after a while, I know I would tend to shut down and just nod and not understand what someone was saying. It’s important to take time later to rethink all the comments you wrote down. Read More

12 Nov

A Washington Voice Retreat

Western Washington SCBWI Retreat: Voice

The retreat was great. There were about 40-45 people there and they were split into two groups. Group A came to me, while Group B went to Patti Gauch, then we swapped for the same presentation again. I sorta knew how Patti would approach voice (and I might have done many of the same things if she hadn’t been there), so I deliberately took a different tack and I think it enriched the experience for the participants. Then, I did a short intro to writing with scenes, more a reminder that this is an option than an indepth study.

The Alderbrook Resort was a great venue, right on the Hood Canal. From the restaurant, you could see a small stream feeding into the canal and we watched salmon swimming up the stream to spawn. Wow! Amazing to this land-locked Arkansan!

Thanks to Jolie Steckly and Sara Easterly for a fabulous job putting this together. (And to Sara’s new daughter, Violet Grace, for giving great cuddles.) And of course, thanks to Jamie Temairik, their assistant and fabulous illustrator.

And Thanks to all those who attended and inspired me with their energy, love of words and attention to detail!

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