07-21-18 Patricia Sargeant

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Makeover -- Literary Style

All of us watch those shows (even if we don’t always ‘fess up).  You know the ones I mean.  A frumpy stay-at-home mom and a Goth-looking college student walk onto the set. An overly bubbly announcer introduces some wonderful product and an amazing makeup artist. Then, voila.  A curling  iron and a bottle of hair gel later, Frumpy and Dumpy are now the hot momma who could play Mrs. Robinson and the fraternity girl most likely to get an STD.

I am, of course, talking about the infamous makeover. I can’t tamp down my skepticism enough to believe Frumpy and Dumpy really looked that bad prior to the makeover.  Surely the show’s producers intentionally frizzed their hair for those hideous “before” images.  Maybe they even put gray paste on the To-Be-Made-Overs’ faces.  And I’m certain some production assistant scours thrift stores in search of the worst clothing possible.  When the assistant finds her prize, she stomps on the shapeless dress or baggy jeans with combat boots prior to dressing the poor “volunteers.” When presented in cocktail dresses for the REVEAL, like any woman who goes from Goodwill to couture, the makeover models look one heck of a lot better.
Seriously, short of surgery or drastic liposuction, how much can you really do in a short period of time to improve your looks?

Fiction, fortunately is different. Forget hair products. You, the great and powerful Oz-thor, have magic at your disposal. With a few strokes of your literary pen, you can take a bad manuscript (assuming there’s a decent plot or you have a good voice) and make the tale into a fascinating story.
Have a heroine you don’t like?  Kill her off on page one and promote the amazing sidekick to leading lady status. Are you main characters boring? Just add equal parts of tension and quirkiness and Ozzie and Harriet morph into Morticia and Gomez Addams.

You can even reshape your basic plot into a totally different story. Believe it or not, you can do this with minimal rewrite.
I originally wrote Forbidden Magic, my first novel, about vampire-type characters living in a world without warm-blooded creatures.  My vamps existed on a mineral mimicking the properties of human blood. Naturally, the mineral was becoming depleted (aka external tension). Unfortunately, no one wanted yet another vamp story.

I instigated a makeover.  First, I made my characters Dökkálfar and álfar—ancient elves.  Since my hero and heroine were no longer vampire, they no longer needed blood. Thus I needed another rare substance necessary to my characters’ survival. To keep my external conflict from disintegrating, I decided the sun on my fictional world wouldn’t have the spectrum of Earth’s solar unit.  Naturally, I made this spectrum necessary to elfin survival.  So what could emulate sunlight? What else? Crystals. And all the quartz had been mined.

I kept the same plot. My characters’ goals, motivation, and conflict didn’t change. Yet my novel had a completely different look.

If your novel isn’t getting the attention it deserves, if your manuscript is dated, or if you just need more oomph, you too can perform the literary makeover—no license required. Remember, a good story (regardless of genre) needs great characters, with great conflict, and a goal worth achieving. The rest is just…well, hair product and cocktail dresses.
How about you?  Performed any literary makeovers on your manuscripts?

Copyright © 2012 by Robin Weaver


Linda Lovely said...

Don't you wish making over our bodies was as easy as literary makeovers? Well, they're not exactly EASY either, but doable. Great post.

Judith Ashley said...

Robin, Thanks for the pep-talk! I start my manuscript makeover tomorrow. May 2013 bring you joy and fantastic first drafts and easy edits!

Ashantay said...

Love the post! Short of starting over, revisions allow you to keep the stuff you like and dump the rest. And yes, I have some stories that could definitely benefit!