By Beth Groundwater
This month I'm in the throes of trying to reshape two things: the manuscript for my third RM Outdoor Adventures mystery titled Fatal Descent and ... my body. I've noticed some interesting parallels between the two efforts, and I'm wondering if I can apply any of the techniques I'm using for one effort to the other. Also, I'm looking for advice, especially for the body editing effort! The manuscript is shaping up much better that the old bod is.
Trimming the Fat
For my body, I'm cutting out most sweets, sodas, alcohol, and fatty foods and eating lots and lots of fresh organic fruits and vegetables to replace those foods. I'm trying to whittle away the gradual weight gain I experienced over the past few years that has added an expanded tummy I don't need and a pair of thick thighs to go with it. I want to get back into my "skinny me" clothes!
I'm also trying to carve away the fat in my manuscript--the long, overblown descriptions that bore the reader, the excessive whitewater rafting terminology that may confuse the reader, the thoughts that repeat what is already said better in dialogue, gestures, or facial expressions, and so on. The goal is to make the book skinny (lean and mean), so that it contains just what it needs to tell an engaging story and no more.
For my manuscript, this means making sure there's sufficient conflict and emotion on the page to provide a meaty and satisfying experience for the reader. it also means making sure that conflicts and emotions are conveyed clearly. In body building, people talk about how "cut" a person is, meaning how well-defined the lines that outline their muscles appear when striking various poses. To have a lean, cut physique, you must have fully developed muscles and minimal fat that softens and hides the shapes of those muscles. Similarly, in my manuscript, I want large, muscular conflict, but if it's hidden in the fat of verbosity, then it's harder for a reader to see and feel that conflict and those strong emotions.
For my body, I'm working on weight-lifting and outdoor exercises such as hiking and biking to build up my muscle volume while at the same time I'm hopefully reducing the fat volume. I want to be stronger, to be able to hike or bike farther and longer and to be able to lift and move with less pain and more agility. I want to be efficient and effective in my movements and to improve my balance. In neither my own body or the manuscript do I want to overly bulk out. I want a natural look--and read--that's pleasing to the eye and is strong enough to get the work done, be it gardening for me or making the reader turn the page for the manuscript.
For my body, this means working on those numbers: keeping blood pressure down, HDL (the good cholesterol) up, and LDL (the bad cholesterol) down. It means avoiding the need to take medications to maintain those numbers. Nutrition, exercise, and stress reduction are all tools for maintaining a healthy body that feels good and goes the distance.
Similarly, I want my manuscript to go the distance, to engage the reader all the way to those two words "The End" and for the reader to come away from the book reading experience feeling good--and satisfied. The numbers to watch here are characters, clues, red herrings, plot twists, etc. I need to have the right amount of each.
Small, Incremental Changes Lead to Big Results
Both of the processes of editing a manuscript and editing a body entail making a small number of tiny changes per day over many, many days to create a meaningful change. They're both tedious processes that can be draining and demotivating--especially when the pounds still aren't coming off or the fight scene is still ponderous. I try to set small, achievable goals for both. When I achieve one, I can celebrate. When I don't, I try to shake it off and try again the next week.
So, readers, what dieting and editing advice do you have for me? How can I add muscle, cut the fat, and increase the fitness of both my body and the manuscript for Fatal Descent?