Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Your Novel’s Going Nowhere

Most authors at one time or another look back over the pages of their newly inspired novel and realize something happened to their inspiration. The book seems to be going nowhere. The idea has lost its punch, and your writing seems to be mundane. Maybe you have hope. Some of the book is great, brilliant even, but you’ve found portions that are unquestionably lackluster. Instead of passing the story off as lost, take some steps to re-rev the motor and add some zip to the stalled novel.

Take A Break
If you’ve been imbedded in the story for the past weeks, even months, your mind is saturated with the plot and the characters. Step back. Set the manuscript aside. Take a week’s vacation, even two weeks. Or perhaps work on a new project. The important action is to stop thinking about the story and characters. Allow your mind to move in other directions. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, we’ve all heard, and sometimes stepping away from a project and returning a week or so later will give you a fresh perspective. The time lapse will help you identify where the novel is weak. Do you need more action? More hooks? Deeper characterization? Is the dialogue dull? Use a highlighter of varying colors or symbols in the margin to indicate where and what you need to add, change, or cut. Once you’ve made your way through the manuscript, you will have a better idea what’s needed and how you can get the novel back in the race.

Try Fresh Eyes
Taking a break from the novel gives you a better perspective, but finding an avid reader who loves the genre you’re writing is another alternative. You don’t have to look for another writer for a critique. Instead ask your friend, acquaintance or family member to read the story and make notes in the margin where the story drags, when they don’t care about the characters, when they feel no concern or emotion, when they want to turn pages to get to the good part. These notes from fresh eyes—especially a reader’s eyes—can be invaluable to give you clues as to where the story is sagging and can offer you ideas on how to make it sparkle.

Scrutinize The Story
Authors are inspired by a story idea. The plot begins to form around the main purpose for writing the book—to show how trust is a must in any relationship, to show that happiness is internal and not external, to demonstrate the strength of a mother or father’s love, to illustrate how opposites can form a strong, committed relationship. Novels come with a purpose, a message, a lesson, a truth. Review your novel by scenes and ask yourself if this scene moves the story forward toward its purpose and the character’s goal. Perhaps you took detour and need to get back on the road. Perhaps the detour is good, but it needs to tie more closely to the purpose of your story.

Search for Weaknesses
Most authors know what techniques or elements of fiction are their weakest. If dialogue is a problem, dissect the conversations between characters and begin to cut the go-nowhere verbiage that’s not needed. When readers are weighed down by unimportant dialogue that’s not moving the plot and purpose forward, they skip over it and may miss the one important piece of dialogue you want them to hear. If you aren’t great at descriptions, as you read the scenes ask if these characters are talking heads—people who aren’t relating to their surroundings. If so, add pieces of meaningful description through character action or introspection. She set the teacup on the saucer, kicking herself for agreeing to meet Milly in a stupid teashop. Now we know where the scene is set and her attitude toward teashops. Do you love descriptions? Maybe you’ve given too many details and have saturated the reader who is looking for action.

Everything Is Sunshine
Readers want tension and conflict. When everything turns out right, a plot can sag and a story becomes boring. Without tension and conflict, you have no novel. Review your scenes and add tension. Do things to the characters that are unexpected—her best friend lets her down, her husband forgets her birthday or their anniversary, the promotion he wanted isn’t what he expected, only a few show up to the well-planned party, instead of a raise he learns his job will be outsourced. As you read your scenes, ask yourself what you can include or take away that will add tension or conflict to the scene.

These are only a few of the techniques you can use to improve your novel. Sometimes the solution must be more dramatic. Scuttle it and start again, but hopefully some of these methods will rekindle the excitement you felt when the story idea first struck you, and your story will be on the right road again.

14 comments:

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Anonymous said...

Thank you, Gail, for the reminder to keep the plot alive! I'm starting the second half of my Mennonite fiction novel and need a "kickstart." I think I know which way the character is going to get into trouble next. :)
Marsha Hubler
www.marshahubler.wordpress.com

Martha Ramirez said...

Very awesome tips, Gail. As always.

phyllis sweetwater said...

it all sounds good in theory, but what I really want is someone to tell me how my book should end, but I still want it to be my idea. Wouldn't that be nice.

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Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Thanks everyone for your positive comments about this article. We all need these reminders no matter how many novels we've had published. I'm working on my 48th or 49th contracted book -- and I still get bogged down occasionally and have to rethinking things.

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Hi Phyllis - Not being a seat of the pants writer, I have no idea how I would write a book without knowing where I'm going and why I want to get there. I'm not one to take a vaction and just drive away from home. I like to have a destination. The ending is vital and I foreshadow things through my novel because it is a hook to the reader. Without knowing, how can I foreshadow anything? Maybe I should do an artcle on the pros and cons of SOTP writing. : )

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Steven Barnes said...

Ask yourself: what is my character's greatest dream, and how could it turn into his worse nightmare? Or: what is my character's worst nightmare, and how could it lead to his greatest dream?


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