Posted by: jeannineatkins | May 4, 2012

Poking Holes in my Manuscript, and Streamlining Transitions

I didn’t mean to suggest my critique group is too harsh when I blogged about coming home from a meeting with instructions to pare a lot and pull out a plot. It’s tough love, yes, but it’s just the kind of love I need, even if I whimper. I send silent thanks as I go through all their thoughtful marks on my manuscript. I just heard a graduating student talk about entering UMass thinking he knew just about all there was to know about literature, then “writing a poetry paper and getting an F … well, actually a B plus.” Yes, I’ve known those students, I’ve been that student, who thinks what she wrote was pretty great, then being reminded we all have a way to go. There are days we get the grade we want, and days we’re sent back to learn some more.

I’ve spent much of this week taking things out from my manuscript and seeing what can be inserted in those holes, if anything. I’m making new transitions, some swifter than before, aided by a wonderful essay called “The Telling That Shows” in The Writer’s Notebook: Craft Essays from Tin House

Peter Rock writes, “The telling is the voice of the story; the showing is the characters let loose.” and discusses tensions between them, which was fascinating, but for me what was most important was his suggestion that direct telling can be more elegant than floundering through a mishmash of summary and scene for transitions. He quotes several examples from Alice Munroe, such as  “A year or so later, Rose was out on the deck.” The idea is to just shift though time and space; it’s not a time for subtlety, tricks, or flowery muddle.

I’m seeing that some of my manuscript’s problems don’t have to do with plot per se, but more with voice: there are places where my character’s sensibility, told in third person, should come across more strongly. Some scenes aren’t necessarily out of place, but distant, and I’m trying to amp up the heartbeat as I  let the manuscript feel like mine again. If it moves more swiftly, I’ll thank for critique group for their vision of how I could take it an extra mile, but of course I have to do the work alone.  If it’s a bit too weighted with historical detail, it’s a sagginess I’m choosing. For a while it will be me and the manuscript at my desk or on the window seat, enjoying an intimacy I’ll want to change one day.



  1. Thank you for this, Jeannine. I will look for the book. My critique group suggested I add more, the isolated scenes needing more context. I’ll have to pare up. The work begins…

  2. Oh, I feel for you, paring up. All this expanding and contracting. There are a lot of gems in this book, with many good quotations: I think it would be worth packing aboard a plane.

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