Major Manuscript Changes

Much discussion in the writing arena focuses on point of view.  Should my book be first person, third person exclusive, switch POV’s, etc.?  I firmly believe POV is a matter of personal taste–for each manuscript.

Every story has different needs.  Most of the time I know what those are going into it.  However, there are times when I’m unsure.  My best example is my NaNo09 novel Whispering Minds

I love, love, loved my character’s name: Gemini, Gemi for short.  I wanted to hear it and see it and love it on paper.  Selfishly.  In addition, I had a whole lot of characters to incorporate into the novel and planned to give each of them their own space.  So I wrote in third person and switched POV’s. 

Twelve thousand words into the manuscript I realized this was too impersonal.  I struggled to capture Gemi’s essence on the page.  She felt distant to me.  And if I didn’t connect, my readers would never give one flip about her. 

Enter first person with no POV switch.  From the moment I realized my huge mistake, I let Gemi tell her story.  It worked out much better this way because she knew her journey more intimately than I and it sounded natural coming from her rather than via my translation of what I thought she wanted to say.

This technique is encouraged in writing circles and by writing professionals.  I’ve heard it from editors, agents, writers and writing coaches.  “Give it a whirl.  See where it takes you.  Use what feels best.”

However, I don’t think they intended for anyone to write 1/5th of a novel before switching.  I have started editing Whispering Minds, but feel like I’ve gotten nowhere.  All I’ve done so far is change out my she’s with me’s and my Gemi’s with I’s and a few other prominant word swaps.  I haven’t even tackled the POV switch yet.  Even so, this is a daunting task.  To date, it is my least favorite edit.

It is even worse than the time I changed an entire novel from present tense to past tense.  Ten times more horrific than a character name change.  Scads more frustrating than the time I gave my MC a sex change.  Not literally within the manuscript–just a simple character shift throughout the whole thing. 

Everything is different.  Word choices, emotions, actions, everything.  Boys use shorter sentences and don’t get all touchy-feely.  Changing tenses means a verb swap in EVERY sentence.  Events feel foreign and forced when making simple substitutions.  Voice is lost and language becomes stilted. 

“Sharon and Gemi attended the play.  The girls laughed so hard their sides hurt.” cannot become “Sharon and I attended the play.  The girls laughed so hard their sides hurt.”  Every sentence needs to be read carefully to make every appropriate substitution.  This process is time consuming.

Along the way, I’ve learned some tips when making Major Manuscript Changes. 

  1. Use the find and replace button if you have one.  While this works miracles for POV or name changes, don’t try it on a tense change.
  2. In addition, do not–DO NOT–find and replace everything.  Confusion abounds.  I almost scrapped my whole project when I realized the magnitude of clicking replace all.
  3. Make your changes 100% BEFORE editing your rough draft.  If you try to edit and change at the same time you will never understand what is going on.  Your edit will be a Disaster with a capital D.
  4. Save the original manuscript someplace else and ignore it while you work on the new edit.  You may learn–when you are all done ripping your hair out making the changes–that the original was, indeed, the better option. 
  5. Relax.  It’s not a race.  You are not graded on how quickly you get the task done.  However, your final manuscript is judged by editors and agents.  Having Timmy start out the manuscript in present tense and ending the piece with Past-Tense-Tonya will likely get your submission tossed.
  6. Use fantastic beta readers before declaring your changes complete.  A Major Manuscript Change is far too difficult to accomplish going solo (ie, we are too close to the project and know what it is supposed to say).  At the end of the day, too many minute mistakes remain.

Have you ever made Major Manuscript Changes to a completed work?  If so, what tips or tricks do you have to help others? 

As readers or writers, what are your preferences regarding POV, tense, gender, etc.?  Is one form an absolute turn off?  If so, why?

~happy editing

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18 responses to “Major Manuscript Changes

  1. First person is hot right now, Cate, and with your “voice” I have a positive feeling about this. Hang in there! 🙂

    • Thanks, Layinda.

      I am struggling with it. I’d rather be editing the manuscript and not making dumb, but necessary, changes. It seems like such a waste of time. The other day DH asked what I had done for the day. I felt like a putz saying: I changed some her’s to my’s. Real impressive!

      : )

  2. With the ms I’ve got marinating right now, I ended up doing a pretty big change. I needed the scene 60 pages in to be the first scene. But I still needed to keep some scenes from before this scene. I had to change the entire timeline of the first half of the ms in order for it to fit. Took months and months.

    Now, I’ve got to go back in and make it flow better. It’s still kind of choppy with the changes. *sigh*

    I like the sound of 1st person for your story. And, not surprisingly, I love the name Gemi 🙂

    • You’re my inspiration. And since she has a twin and hippie parents…

      Your edit sounds more difficult than any I have done before. I wish you luck in making it smooth and flow-y!

      Do you have any tips in how you managed to keep everything straight?

  3. Changing POV is big. I have a manuscript sitting on the shelf that’s multiple POV — the main character is first person and all the rest of the characters are third person limited — I’d love to change the whole novel to a first person main character story, but there’s so much backstory for the other characters that would have to be eliminated. In essence, I’d be writing a new book. Still might do it…maybe…someday.

    • Patricia,

      Wow, sounds like a huge job. Sometimes, however, these things need to be done to make our manuscripts stronger. Whoever comes up with the software to make this conversion seamless will never need to worry about an agent or editor again. They could simply publish their own books!

  4. I totally have! And here’s my take on it. I’ve learned that, FOR ME, if I have to go back and forth on tense, POV, names, then the story is not ready to be written. So I give it space until it is.

    Great post!

    • Elana,

      Let it simmer until it is ready to write itself…then put the words down. Makes sense and is a great tip. I’ll have to save those great names, paragraphs or starter sententences to be used for later!

  5. I agree with you about find and replace. It can be a godsend or your worst nightmare. For a client, I had to change all underlined words to italicized words in her ms. I used F and R, and it italicized all the words but didn’t remove the underlining. Glad I read it again before giving it back.

    I like to stick to 3rd person and switch POV’s at least once when I’m writing, but I’ll read anything.

  6. Boy, sounds like you have a daunting task. I once changed pov from first person to third but I was only through the first chapter at the time. Even so….it was a major undertaking. (And a big improvement, I must say.) I agree, you have to be really careful with find and replace.
    Good luck!!

    • Yvonne,

      One chapter, one thousand words, one fifth of a manuscript. Major changes are always challenging. Glad yours turned out for the better. It is refreshing when that happens!

  7. I’ve been taking pieces of my current ms and changing the POV to another character. I realized it’s a better way to get involved with the different characters.
    I write first-person shorts now and then, but for novels I use 1st in a special way–when characters are telling a story.

    • Andrew,

      This seems so time consuming, but I’ve heard that other writers also do this–and love the results. I bet you do get a much better feel for each individual character when you do it this way.

  8. Great post!
    I am finding that, on this my third version, I have finally found what I should have done when I first had the inkling…switch POVs between the two main characters. It means inserting roughly six chapters in the beginning and I’m not sure how many in the second half. Here’s the thing. The two POVs are separate until they intersect in the story and then they split off again at the end. They’re also both third person, which I like because of that all-seeing perspective of the narrative voice. Could I change it up to first person? absolutely. But, I don’t want to. Maybe this stubborness will lead to yet another draft, but I want to get it right. It does mean that I have a lot of content editing to make sure things are still consistent and to keep the chapters flowing.

    • Sarah, thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      Your rewrite sounds interesting and it appears like you know what you’re doing.

      I enjoy first person, but not as much when POV switches between characters. I tend to get too wrapped up in the emotions and lose track of who is appearing before me. For major MC chapter shifts, I find I can follow it better when they are presented in third person. Your newest edit sounds right up my alley!

      I’m always game for well-written and innovative writing. Best of luck as you keep your timelines and chapters consistent. I know this can be hard.

  9. This process kind of reminds me of the contant checking I have to do while painting through a whole kids book. Sometimes I’ve changed clothing colors, eye colors, or added an extra finger on a character by accident. When you look at something for so long sometimes you miss the obvious stuff.

    • Christina,

      I’ve seen your work and I find it very hard to believe you’ve ever added a six fingered character…unless you just finished watching “The Princess Bride”.

      I don’t think I’ve ever considered that artists can make the same kind of thoughtless mistakes that need editing in the same way writers do. Thanks for the great perspective on that.

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