Guest post by Heidi Fiedler
As an editor who’s also a writer, I am keenly aware of how overwhelming it can feel when you first receive a manuscript critique with recommendations on how to revise the plot, characters, dialogue, themes, and marketability of a book you’ve already poured your heart into. It’s hard to imagine making all those changes, especially when one will lead to another, and you’re worried you might be making the project worse, rather than better. It’s impossible not to see a long list of revisions and start calculating how long they will take, adding that number to the hours you already know you’ll need to spend submitting to agents, and then another long period of time it will for the book to go through production. It’s a lot to absorb and make peace with. I get that.
That’s why I often encourage my writers to focus on making just one change at a time. Identifying the change that will have the biggest impact and then just focusing on that, while putting aside the other smaller changes that may still need to be made later, can help us move forward and avoid getting stuck or feeling overwhelmed. When writers hire me to critique their manuscripts, the most common changes I recommend are:
- Giving the characters agency and letting them make difficult decisions and mistakes with real consequences
- Making space for the reader’s imagination and personal interpretation, rather than telling the reader what to think about a particular character, event, or idea
- Defining the beginning, middle, and end of the story (I am forever recommending the great Martha Alderson’s Plot Planner.)
- Grounding the story in reality by adding specific details (Give yourself a gold star if you make some of the details contradictory or surprising!)
- Showing not telling the most important moments of the story (Handy refresher chart included below!)
Could making one of these changes have a significant impact on your story? Before turning to word choice or even mending any gaps in logic, these are the areas I recommend focusing your time and attention on. These are the changes that will elevate a manuscript. And then when you have watched your manuscript evolve and grow, you’ll be ready to move on to making other changes. You’ll understand your story more deeply and have more confidence about your ability to revise. That’s the power of making just one change.
Heidi Fiedler is a children’s book writer and editor who’s worked on more than 300 picture books, chapter books, novelty books, and nonfiction titles for kids. For the month of January only, she’s offering a limited number of mini manuscript critiques that focus on identifying the three most important changes you can make to move your book forward. Learn more at helloheidifiedler.com