God’s Eye View of a Manuscript

When you write a novel, it is hard to separate yourself from the characters and the plot. I’ve often said that when I’m writing a scene, I think and act like the character. In other words, I become the character.

Let’s call that the linear view. In other words, I see what the character sees and what you, the reader also see.  So as the plot twists and turns, you get to see more and more of the character as the story unfolds.  And, there has to be some surprises along the way.

But, there is another view of the story and that’s what I call the “god’s eye” view. Think of a novel’s plots and sub-plots as a maze. Some of the story lines lead nowhere. So my job as a writer is to help steer you through the maze, but also allow for some interesting detours. To do that, I have to look down at all the story lines from above, see how they flow together and then make sure they flow. In other words, I can let you the reader wind up at a dead end.

The hard part is even though I start with an outline, I really don’t know where the characters will take me. Often, the story takes me far afield of what I originally thought it might go based on the outline.  Yes, in the ‘god’s eye view,’ I have an ending in mind, but often, the characters lead me to a different spot. Every time they’ve done that, it has been better than what I planned.

So back to the ‘god’s eye view.’ Once the manuscript is completed, I often look down at it from this perch to see what needs to be added and what needs to be taken out. Trust me, after writing a scene and putting blood sweat and tears to say nothing of hours researching elements of it, it’s hard to cut something. Editors do it as a matter of course. For them it is simple, they say “it doesn’t fit….” For them it is easy, for me, well….  Let’s just say its harder and sometimes painful.

More often than not, the ‘god’s eye view’ reveals gaps in the story, i.e. more emotion or background or context is needed. Another gap that I see is that there isn’t enough conflict. One of the things I’ve learned the hard way (from editors) is that subtle is not always the best way. Readers may miss it, so I just lay it out there and let the characters deal with it.

Looking down from the top reveals a lot of faults with a manuscript as well as its strengths. Another lesson learned is that as I’m writing, to stop every few chapters and take a god’s eye look at the story. Every time I’ve done that, I’ve added something that made the story better.

And, in a prior blog, I talked about eliminating blockages. Another lesson learned is that when they happen, what the story is telling me is that I need to take a god’s look. Once I see how it flows together and what’s missing, then I know what to write.

Marc Liebman

November 2016