Our Pages

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Restoration 101 The Idiots guide to Restoring your Manuscript Part One

With all this talk of restoring old manuscripts, I thought I would take the next couple of weeks to give my own personal guide to my experience with restoring an old Manuscript. Hopefully, this will help someone else and shorten the amount of time it takes on the edits.

My own experience was very long and drawn out due to the fact that I had no clue where to start. I think this is most of the problem for many of us. You see this three hundred to four hundred page manuscript sitting there and it needs so much work you find yourself overwhelmed. After several attempts to begin editing, you end up putting it away for another four or five years. Well, hopefully I can help simplify this process a little easier.

Think in terms of a camera man and a movie. Now zoom way out and look at the entire picture. This is where you want to begin. This is your story structure process and the first thing you need to determine is do you have a beginning, a middle and an end. And do they make sense? Sounds so simple doesn’t it?

This is called your three—act structure. Essentially your basics will be in place, you’ll have characters, a plot, and hopefully GMC (Goal, motivation and conflict.) Before you chip away at the details, you must first determine are these basics cohesive and working.

Does your plot have a beginning, middle and end?

Do your characters have a strong goal, motivation and conflict?

Do you have a strong view or image of your characters? By this I mean your basic eye color, hair color, height. We’ll get to grind the details of their personality a little later.

Once you’ve determined any changes to these basic essentials you’ll want to look at your old outline if you used one and if not perhaps you might want to create one now. The most basic outline is a one sentence summary of each chapter. That’s pretty easy to accomplish. Now post that bad boy somewhere where you see it from your computer.

Now go through these things, write down any changes on a separate piece of paper or a new file under the name of (title of story) manuscript changes. No spaces.

Get your ideas down on paper first before implementing them into the story. Keep your original manuscript draft saved under a different name and then make the changes within the story.

Now if you decided on any changes to the structure and plot, write out a new outline. I know you pantsers are just cringing but the thing is you’ve already written this story once. You’re just tweaking it at this point. So don’t think of it in terms of planning.

Now you should have several files saved. Your original work. A file or list of changes you think you need to make, an old outline or summary of the chapters you start with as well as a new one with the new changes. These should help you to focus on what needs to get done first and in what order. Use the list and plan to make these changes one at a time. Remember these are just changes to your basic plot, character (say you want the character to have green eyes instead of blue) and story structure.

Next post we’ll zoom in the camera slightly and whittle away at our characters and chapters. Until then, as long as you have a good solid foundation (plot) anything can be rebuilt. I would love to hear of anyone’s experiences with restoring an old manuscript and please ask any questions you may have. I’ll answer to the best of my ability.


  1. Melissa, I think this is great advice. It is so easy to look at a manuscript that needs a massive overhaul and become overwhelmed trying to work out how to get it all done. But you've hit it on the nose--start with the big picture things. Everything else can come later, even though it is so tempting to tweak sentences and other small-picture items at this stage of the game.

  2. Melissa,

    Thanks for the tips. I may be looking at a complete rewrite of my first manuscript. It's good to have some advice from someone who's already been through the process.

  3. I use the three acts, myself. I think it's the most do-able and least scary. By breaking it down, it's easier to see what needs to go where.

  4. Great advice, Melissa! I'm going to need it soon :)

  5. Well, I hope it helps some ladies. Let me know how it all goes and the next post in two weeks will be about the details.

    The three act makes things so much more simple, Candyland. I so agree with you.

    Thanks for stopping by ladies!

  6. Melissa, you made some great suggestions. One thing I find really useful is to print the manuscript then attack it with colored post-it notes. Seeing the physical document, reading it through on paper, tagging points to consider revising helped me tremendously with my last edit. Looking forward to your next post. :o)