Re-visioning Your Manuscript With Cheryl Klein

Originally Published: Nov. 24, 2010
by Emily Goodman

Cheryl Klein, senior editor at Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, shared “Twenty-Five* Revision Techniques (*Subject to Revision)” to a full house at the SCBWI-New York professional lecture series on October 12, 2010.

“This talk grew from seeing how different writers approach the process of revising their manuscripts,” Klein said. She stressed that not all techniques will work for every writer. For example, although she loves outlines herself, Klein understands that “some people would rather rewrite their entire book than make an outline.” She suggested that authors employ only those techniques from the list that will work best for their own writing style and sense of what their book needs.

Klein has divided the 25 techniques into three categories. The first group, she said, is designed to help writers reconnect with their original vision of their work and evaluate if they have achieved their goals. “After finishing your draft, take some time off,” Klein advised. “When you’ve just finished, you’re still seeing the manuscript through work eyes, not reader’s eyes.”

After some time has passed, Klein suggested writers draft a letter to a sympathetic friend describing their story and its larger themes and explaining what they wanted to do with the book. This, she said, helps writers get back to their original vision. Other “vision” techniques include making a collage showing key images from the book, and making a playlist or soundtrack for individual characters or the book as a whole, then asking yourself why you chose those songs.

Then Klein suggested moving on to the second group of revision techniques, intended to help writers examine their work with fresh eyes. Writers should reread the manuscript, she advised, and note what they think is good and bad about it. “Be totally shameless about praising the good stuff in your notes,” she said. “Then strive to bring everything else up to that higher level.”

Another of Klein’s techniques is to list the first ten things each significant character says and does. “This will show you how the character comes off to the reader,” she explained. “Be careful if the first ten things are all negative or unpleasant. You may know that a change in that character is coming, but the reader doesn’t, and may be turned off.”

She described several techniques for evaluating the plot. For novelists, she suggested identifying the key events of both the Action (outer) and Emotional (inner) plots, then checking them for coherence and consistency. “Do all the events fit together?” she asked. “Are there missing steps?”

The third group of techniques guides writers in polishing the manuscript. “Keep an eye on the effect your spot changes have on the whole,” Klein advised, “and make sure they don’t throw off the total effect.” She also suggested looking at the last lines of every scene to make sure they leave the intended emotional resonance in the reader’s mind. Finally, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Get your manuscript to the best stage you possibly can,” Klein said, “then get it out into the world.”

For more revision techniques, a plot checklist, and other goodies, visit Klein’s website at http://www.cherylklein.com.

Emily Goodman wrote the award-winning picture book Plant Secrets(Charlesbridge, 2009) and is busy revising other nonfiction and a fantasy novel.

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