Thursday, April 22, 2010


I consider one of my main life talents to be cutting manuscripts. In another life, I would have worked for The Readers Digest, abridging articles and books. In this life, I spent a decade as the editor and staff writer for the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy at the University of Maryland, where one of my chief tasks was taking people's 40-page papers and making them into 10-page papers to publish in our quarterly journal/newsletter. Often the author couldn't figure out what I had removed. I was that good.

I have always believed that just about any manuscript benefits from cutting. When I was first learning how to write a picture book, the process for me was all about cutting my wordy middle-grade-novel-ish draft into something tighter, more shaped and sculpted. The more I cut the story, the better it got.

But now Nancy Hinkel at Knopf wants me to ADD 25-30 pages to my chapter book (tentatively titled Mason Dixon's Pet Disasters). Mason is a curmudgeonly fourth grader who resolutely doesn't want a pet; his well-meaning but clueless parents present him in turn with a goldfish, hamster, and cat, all with disastrous results. Then, to his great surprise, Mason falls in love with a most unlikely dog. The Knopf format for chapter books is longer than I'm used to, so she wants me grow my 70-page story into 100 pages. The strange thing is that I'm doing this, the book is getting better. I'm finding that it is so much more heartwarming to see Mason's attachment to Dog grow more slowly, with more initial resistance on his part. The greater his initial resistance, the more powerful the moment when he finally capitulates.

How can this be? How can ADDING improve a manuscript when it's supposed to be CUTTING that improves it? As the King of Siam would say, "Eez a puzzlement!" Maybe - maybe every manuscript is different and no one-size-fits-all rule applies? I'd still put my money on cutting as the preferred technique for manuscript improvement. But, oh, I am loving every new page I'm giving to Mason right now.

1 comment:

  1. Glad you're loving the ADDING of words and pages. I love your character's name: Mason Dixon. Can't wait to read this new series. When will the first book be released?