Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Revising Your Manuscript: Tips From Author, Susin Nielsen

Television writer and novelist, Susin Nielsen, is the author of Word Nerd and Dear George Clooney: Please Marry My Mom. Her latest book, The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen, published by Tundra Books, is a young adult novel about a thirteen-year-old boy who comes to terms with the horrible crime his older brother committed.

I was intrigued by the concept of this novel, as it is darker than Susin’s past work, but I also wanted to discover more about her editing process.

In this interview, Susin shares some of her revision tips.

In your new book, The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen, you use the strategy of journal writing to help with the narrative and character development. How did you incorporate Henry’s voice in the journals? What kinds of changes did you notice in the journals in comparison to the reality around Henry?

It wasn't a matter of incorporating Henry's voice into the journal, as his voice really is the journal ... I guess I felt that the only way Henry would ever share his story would be slowly, under a bit of pressure, hence the journal as suggested by his therapist.

In my first two novels, I also use first-person narrative, but they are not journals, and what I found intriguing (and occasionally frustrating!) in this case was that it really was a different kettle of fish, using a journal structure. I couldn't write things as they were happening; they had to have happened, in order for Henry to write about them, if that makes sense. It made plotting and pacing a unique challenge.

Do you have a particular revision process or did you find it different to edit The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen?

I do quite a lot of revisions before the manuscript ever gets sent to the publisher (Tundra). My husband reads the ms, my agent, and usually a good writer friend of mine. In this case, because I was nervous about the balance of tragedy coupled with humour, I also gave it to a local young adult book club, run by a fabulous woman named Christianne Hayward, to get feedback from her young readers. I actually love the re-writing process; it's much easier to work on something that is already there, than staring at the blank page. 

How much time did you spend on this manuscript in the revision process? Did it change drastically from the first draft?

It's hard to calculate the time, but I did a fair amount of revisions. They were probably smaller things until it went to Tundra, at which point I got what are known as "substantive' comments from my editor, and at that point, I would say I did change the manuscript quite a bit, though I wouldn't say drastically. I think the biggest changes I made were: 1) Henry stopped talking to his therapist - that was how I had written the first draft, and 2) I really brought his therapist, Cecil, to life. He had been almost nonexistent earlier.

How do you deal with cutting scenes out that you have grown attached to, even though you know your book doesn’t need them?

I've been writing for a long time (TV for years, books more recently), so I'm actually quite good at being ruthless. Kill your babies, as they say. If it isn't working, if it's slowing the pace, I chuck it, and it usually feels great, like a weight lifted off my shoulders! 

Do you follow any worthwhile bits of advice when it comes to revising your work?

I read my manuscript aloud. It takes longer, but I do it quite seriously, and it's amazing how that helps. It really points out the spots where the story is lagging. 

Do you have any advice you can share with new writers who have completed their first draft and are about to begin revising?

Be ruthless. Try to get trusted friends/family members to read and critique, and don't get defensive when they give you their honest feedback. You can choose to take it or leave it - not all comments are helpful or worthwhile.

The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen hits bookstores this month! To read more about Susin and her work, click here.


Steel Town Steve said...

Reading aloud can be a time saving and energy giving process when reviewing ones own work and I appreciate Susin's affirmation on this. Much like a musician practising and then playing aloud to imagine feelings evoked by the audience.

Lorna London said...

Thanks for your comment, Steel Town Steve!

I agree that reading out loud and practicing music can give you a more organic sense of rhythm and pacing...reading out loud can show whether or not you're "in tune"!

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