Tuesday, January 15, 2013

What's In Your Diaper Genie? Revisions: How to Get the Crap Out of Your Book

by Mindy McGinnis

I recently finished a massive revision. When I say revision I mean that I took a deep breath, popped the top on the Diaper Genie and dug in to try to figure out what was making everything stink so bad.

It's not easy to be critical of your own babies. But there also comes a time when we have to be realistic and acknowledge that fact that, hey - babies can stink. And there's usually a very good reason why the nursery doesn't smell as awesome as it did the day you brought brand new baby home.

Here are some tips for getting the crap out of your baby:

  • Take a good hard look at your plotting. Are you introducing major points a little late? Sure, you thought it would help build suspense and give a nice one-two punch combined with Plot Point #2, but are you sure you aren't just asking your readers to slog through 100 pages of backstory before they get some kibble?
  • Be realistic about what you're asking your reader to bring to the table. Yes, you know that what Character #1 said has some serious underlying implications, but of course you know - you planted them there. Make sure you're not asking your readers to dissect every little sentence in order to create Ooh and Aah moments later on. Sure, in retrospect it might make you look like a plotting genius, but if it's too vague it'll just look like you can't write organic dialogue.
  • Be realistic about what your reader is bringing to the table. It might seem like a counterpoint to #2, but it's not. Don't try to control every aspect of the scene in order to force the reader to visualize your character or setting exactly the way you do. You provide the canvas, but let them do the painting. Over-explanation and detailed information dumps about appearances and / or settings is just going to make them wonder if somebody else's watercolor might be easier to digest.
  • Filler smells bad. No, really. Anybody who just made the jump to solid foods can attest to this. There are plenty of words you simply don't need. My biggest offenders are just and that. Do a Ctrl+F on these words in your ms and then read the sentence aloud to yourself without those words. Nine times out of ten, you won't need them.
  • Duh. If you're writing in first person, little phrases like I see, I think, I feel are extraneous. For example, "I see my mom picking her nose over by the window." If this book / scene / chapter is from 1st POV, it's implied that the reader can only see it if the narrator does. "My mom is picking her nose over by the window." Look at that! You cut down your word count!
These are just a few of the problems I encountered when I looked back at a manuscript I finished years ago. Although, it seems I haven't learned much because I used the word "just" in the sentence right before this one. Pssttt! Read it again, leaving "just" out - see! It still makes sense!

Mindy McGinnis is a YA author and librarian. Her debut, NOT A DROP TO DRINK, is a post-apocalyptic survival tale set in a world where freshwater is almost non-existent, available from Katherine Tegen / Harper Collins September 9, 2013. She blogs at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire and contributes to the group blogs Book PregnantFriday the ThirteenersFrom the Write AngleThe Class of 2k13 and The Lucky 13s. You can also find her on TwitterTumblr & Facebook.


  1. Mindy, this is one of my favorite posts of the season--great blog headline, hysterically funny prose, useful info, and no yellowy brown crap to wade through. Thank you!

  2. Holly - Why, thank you! I'd blush but I stopped doing that after fourth grade. I'm just that way. ;) Thanks for commenting and stopping by!

  3. Oh God, I am so guilty of point one, says the person slogging through her rewrites. Thank you for reminding me I'm not alone!

  4. Don't even feel bad, Barbara. I just moved up a major reveal... (wait for it) over 100 pages. Uh, yeah. Apparently my goal was to make people think it was just a happy little contemporary and then... NO!! HA HAA!! LOOK SOMETHING HORRIBLE HAPPENED!! BLAH!!

  5. Thank you for giving me a little more oomph to get through my revising process. I think I'm just as bad with those sneaky extra words. ;)

  6. Musing - oh yes, they will sneak up on you! One good tool for determining what oft-occuring filler you've got floating around in there is to make a Wordle on wordle.net

    You can literally cut and paste your entire ms into their little program and it will make a pretty word cloud for you of your most-used words. Look at that and see if you've got any uglies in there, and it'll you weed them out.

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