How to KonMari Your Manuscript
We KonMari’d our closets—now it’s time to Konmari our stories
Marie Kondo has changed my life. Using her “spark joy” method, I cleaned out my closet, got rid of over half of my clothes, and have not looked back. Although it took me a couple days to finish the project, I have reaped many benefits from the simple task of letting go.
1. My closet has stayed organized.
2. I’m more selective of what I buy.
3. I feel better.
So, writers, my question is this:
Why not translate the KonMari method to novel writing too?
By analyzing each part of our manuscript, getting rid of the pieces that weigh the reader (and us!) down, and keeping only the scenes that spark joy, I believe:
1. Our stories will be better organized.
2. We will be more selective of what we include in our plots.
3. Our novels will be better.
Does your novel spark joy?
At the heart of it all, the KonMari method teaches that all our possessions should “spark joy.” Likewise, all of our chapters, characters, and even words should spark joy.
Because our manuscripts take so long to write and because the scenarios we write are a part of us, we have a very hard time stepping back and admitting that not all of it is great. But the sooner you can see that, the sooner you’ll be on track to writing a story that is great. So, ask yourself this:
Does everything in your novel spark joy?
The only answer should be yes.
Not — “Well, most of it, but there are parts that I just have to include because they are necessary.”
Not — “Some of the scenes spark joy, but it’s impossible for me to be in love with every single scene.”
Not — “No, because if they all spark joy, then there’ll be no highs (vs. lows).”
Again, I repeat, the only answer should be: “Yes! Every single scene in my novel sparks joy for me.” That doesn’t mean that some scenes will be dark. That doesn’t mean that some scenes will be depressing. It means that you are giddy with excitement about every page you wrote. Every sentence sparks joy.
Breakdown your scenes
First, you’ll need to look at your scene breakdown sheet (download my free Scene GMC worksheet here). Highlight the scenes that do spark joy—the ones you are obsessed with. These scenes stay. They’re not going anywhere.
But for the other ones…
I am proud of you for being honest with yourself! It is hard to actually see how many things we’ve written that we don’t really like. But keep this in mind, if it doesn’t spark joy for you, then it’s probably not going to spark joy for your reader.
Take a minute to review the scenes that you didn’t highlight and write a note off to the side as to why they don’t spark joy for you. Here are some possible reasons:
· It’s an info dump.
· A character doesn’t strike a cord with you.
· You’re describing the setting too much.
· You’re describing the characters too much.
· Nothing happens. (Nothing advances or retreats.)
· There is no goal (or motivation or conflict).
· The dialogue is flat.
· The dialogue doesn’t accomplish anything.
· Your prose is in consistent with the rest of your story.
· There’s a plot hole in there that you’ve been actively avoiding.
There are a whole bunch of reasons why you may not be in love with a scene. As tough as it is, do your best to come up with a reason for each one that doesn’t spark joy.
Thank u, next
Now, it’s time to say goodbye.
“Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest.”Marie Kondo, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up
At this point, you must decide which pieces of your manuscript can be repaired and which ones need to head to the trashcan (or donated). As Marie Kondo explains, “never discard anything without saying thank you and good-bye.”
So thank them, and then say hello to your better story! Those pieces are weighing down your novel. They need to go. To help make this whole process easier, start with the big elements first and then whittle down to the micro-scale elements. Follow these steps:
1. Start with scenes
Start with your scenes. You could even start with your chapters if you wanted, but take caution. Usually a chapter will contain several scenes and if you just go chopping out chapters, you may have a lot of plot holes to fill.
Consider these questions:
· Does your scene have a beginning, middle, and end?
· Does your scene have a goal?
· Does your scene present any new challenges?
· Does your scene advance the plot?
· Does your scene make your main character (MC) take a step backward?
· Does your scene link directly to the plot?
· Does your scene relate to the story’s theme?
If you said no to any of those questions. It’s time to reconsider that scene. Either fix it or trash it. And then move on.
2. Re-audition Your Characters
Okay, so you don’t have to re-audition them. But, take a good, long look at them. The more characters you have the more difficult it will be for the readers to keep them all straight. So make sure they’re in your story for the right reasons. Consider these questions:
· Does your character have a backstory?
· Does your character have a want, a desire, a goal?
· Does your character advance the plot?
· Does your character aid the MC?
· Does your character provide a conflict for your MC?
· Does your character act as an obstacle for your MC?
· Can another one of your characters fill in for this character’s role?
· Does this character have an arc?
Again, if you said no to any of those questions, consider cutting that character from your cast. You don’t want to fill your story with extraneous, pointless, aimless characters. Every character you include should be important enough to have a goal, show change, and above all, they should tie directly to the advancement of the plot line. (BTW, when I say “advancement” I don’t necessarily mean they make the character move forward. They may actually provide a conflict for your MC and make them take a step backward, but they are still acting as a catalyst that moves the reader forward on the plot line.)
3. Line edits come last
Once you’ve cleaned up your scenes and characters (and you’ve mended all the plot holes you’ve now created), then you can work through your manuscript with a magnifying glass. Comb through each sentence and cut these pests:
· Long descriptions (setting or characters)
· Filter words (download my list here and see the list of resources below)
· Passive sentences
Okay, that about does it! I hope the KonMari method works for you and your manuscript! It is a life changer and when you’re finished, your entire novel will spark joy for you and that light shine for your readers.
Looking for more?
· Writing Tip: Filtering Filter Words ~ Joynell Shultz
· Filter Words and Phrases to Avoid in Writing Fiction ~ Anne R. Allen
· 43 Words You Should Cut From Your Writing Immediately ~Diane Urban
· 297 Flabby Words and Phrases That Rob Your Writing of All Its Power ~ SmartBlogger