Hooray! We’re so glad you’re here!
Welcome to the third annual #KidLitZombieWeek, a time to breathe new life into old “dead” manuscripts. This event is hosted by my critique group, 6 Ladies and a MANuscript. Find out more about #KidLitZombieWeek HERE on our website, including donor wisdom, FAQs, and PRIZES!
Where do we start with zombie manuscripts?
When I’m trying to bring a dead story back to life, I often reread it aloud and ask myself . . . What’s the best part of this story? What can I save? It could be a character, a title, a premise, or even just one line. Could an old picture book manuscript be revised into a short story? This has happened to me often. In fact, my stories published in children’s magazines all started out as picture book manuscripts.
My biggest #KidLitZobmbieWeek tip is old stories, fresh eyes.
The first set of fresh eyes belongs to the writer– you. Take a look at your oldest abandoned stories. Reread them. I find that it’s easier for me to critique and revise my oldest stories because they feel like they were written by someone else (past me!) Before (or after) you revise, consider sending them to critique partners who have never read them before. This is the second (or third or fourth) set of fresh eyes that may see the things that can make your story sing.
Speaking of fresh eyes, critique partners and critique groups are invaluable in helping me revive my dead stories. So I asked them to tell me about their own zombie manuscripts and tips! Here’s what they had to say.
As a retired science teacher, I try to put science in every manuscript I write. A couple of years ago, I wrote a rhyming picture book with the underlying theme of climate change. But it didn’t tell the whole story. It was dead anyway . . . no agent love. I felt compelled to expand it but kept pushing that thought away. I had never written a novel—was positive I couldn’t. But as they say, you never know until you try. It’s finished, and I couldn’t be more proud. I took a 500-word picture book manuscript and turned it into a 46,000-word MG fantasy/adventure. It’s fun, exciting, and loaded with science. Do you have a picture book manuscript that needs to be a novel?
Glenda Roberson is a retired biology/chemistry teacher in SW Missouri. Before she started writing picture books, and now a middle-grade novel, she began an art career and opened her own online shop to sell her watercolors. Besides writing and painting, she enjoys her grandchildren, gardening, golf, and bowling. Connect with Glenda on Etsy and Twitter.
How do you take a “dead” manuscript and revise it to bring it back to life?
Revision is fun if you think about it positively. You can change your story from first person to third and breathe new life into it. You can look up every verb and find a better, more powerful action word. Try the same with nouns! Does your picture book need adjectives? No? Take them out. Change the main character to another animal? Look at every single word and decide if it holds its weight. Revision can be fun. It’s a puzzle. Solve it!
Dedra Davis fleshes out new life into her picture book manuscripts while she queries agents. She also chases zombies (revises her first YA novel about a ghost) and breathes new life into the pages. Dedra is an active member of SCBWI, 12X12PB, Courage to Create, and two critique groups. She and her Weenteam review picture books on Instagram, and she resides on the board of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library of Waco. Connect with Dedra on her website, Twitter, and Instagram.
When writing a first draft, I used to “hear” my story one way and get stuck on it forevermore. Revisions would center around what I originally wrote, and they were tiresome. The story would become so deeply embedded in my brain that I couldn’t deviate from its course. And I would become hopelessly stuck.
Lately, I’ve been into big-picture revisions during the first few rounds of drafting. In fact, I don’t even reference previous drafts when I revise. Sometimes the differences between drafts are comical– I’ll forget character names, for instance, and have to come up with new ones. Sometimes scenes or turns of phrase remain completely the same. But sometimes, in a change of tense or perspective, I’m able to “hear” an entirely different story. Something that synthesizes the best of the beginning with everything I’ve written in between. And it’s the one.
In #KidlitZombieWeek terms, this method is a little like cloning. It’s all the same thing, but hopefully a little better (and not scarier!) every time.
CA girl turned PA mom, Sarah Heaton writes, bakes, crafts, and drives her four kids to practice. She’s a co-host of #KidLitZombie week– the silliest, spookiest, most rewarding week of the year. Connect with Sarah on her website, Twitter and Instagram.
Bringing a manuscript back from the dead can be daunting. You don’t need candles or a skilled medium, but you do need to believe in your mission and in yourself. You are capable of creation! You are capable of magic! And, hopefully, you are capable of being flexible because things don’t always turn out the way you thought they would (and in writing, that’s often a delightful thing).
Perhaps you wrote a draft (or two, or fifteen) but came to terms with the fact that your story had no pulse, no heart. You said some words and tucked it into a cold drawer to forget about it until you were challenged to raise the dead.
Maybe you’re a little nervous to open that drawer.
You didn’t get the story quite right the first time so why bother thinking you’ll get it this time? Well, my friend, give yourself some credit because little did you know, you were doing EXACTLY what you needed to prepare for this life-giving task:
- you gave that manuscript time and space
- you kept reading
- you kept writing
- and you kept living your life, soaking up experiences and laughter and love and loss and now you are wiser
- Take a deep breath and open that drawer.
- Grab your manuscript and grab a fresh piece of paper and a writing utensil that makes you smile.
- Try something new! Here are a few ideas to get you started. Pick one or all or none and come up with your own:
- Before you read your manuscript, write a pitch and/or synopsis. This can be an amazing way to get your brain focused on the heart of your story. Now, read your story! Does it fit the pitch? If not, re-write the story on a fresh piece of paper with your pitch in mind and see what happens.
- Read your manuscript and try to diagnose the fatal beat – where does this story fall flat?
- Does your character lack an arc? If so, imagine a conversation with your main character – what do they want most in the world? What is keeping them from getting it? To what lengths are they willing to go to get what they want? Now go back and inject that into your story!
- Does the pacing feel off? Dummy it out to get a feel for balance and page turns.
- Is your character solving the story problem? If not, how can you give them more agency?
- Allow yourself to be ridiculous. Agents and editors are overwhelmed right now and it takes a lot to stand out. You need a unique voice, an irresistible story, and multiple hooks. Now is not the time to hold back; it’s time to go BIG. So, let your imagination run away with you. If there’s a moment your story starts to feel predictable or dull, brainstorm 10 new lines or endings or character traits, etc, etc, etc.
- Don’t doubt yourself. Remember why you started writing in the first place – to express yourself, to share your heart with others, and hopefully to have FUN!
I’d say good luck, but you don’t need it. You got this! Now go raise the dead!
Nicole Loos Miller writes picture books and middle-grade fiction. When she’s not writing or working as a social worker, she can be found seeking adventure with her family just outside of Chicago. Connect with Nicole on Twitter or through her website at http://nicoleloosmiller.com.
Maryna Doughty won a mini mentorship from Brian Gehrlein last year during Kid Lit Zombie Week. Click here to read her words of wisdom: 3 Things to Consider When Bringing Your PB Manuscript Back to Life.
Now we’d love to hear from YOU! Have you revived a dead story? What happened? How did you bring it back to life? Did it change form? Did a picture book morph into a short story or a middle-grade novel?
Do you have #KidLitZombieWeek tips? Please share them on Twitter and remember to include the #KidLitZombieWeek hashtag.
Happy writing, revising, and zombifying your manuscripts this week!