When you’re writing fiction, you’re rarely certain of anything, until your novel is done. Even with extensive outlining, the book may wander off in strange directions.
“It’s not working…” you mutter to yourself in despair and decide to take a few days off from writing.
Writing fiction: keep writing, even when it isn’t working
Keep writing. Sit at your desk, or on the sofa, or wherever you normally write, at the time you normally write. Writing is a habit. So is not-writing.
Every single novel — or novella, or short story — you ever write will hit the wall at some stage. If you stop writing, your project will join all the other projects you started and didn’t finish.
Now let’s look at how you can rescue your novel.
1. Delete the first three scenes, or delete the first chapter
Delete the first three scenes, or the first chapter, whichever has more words. Yes, you can move the material to a “Later” folder, so it’s not gone for good. 🙂
Novels tend to “go wrong” when you lose your initial inspiration. With most novels, the first chapter is you, unsure of yourself and deciding what to write.
Here’s why trashing this starter material helps. You’ll be forced to rethink the way you’re telling the story. Most new novelists’ first few scenes are packed with backstory and flashbacks (horrors!) This junk stifles your voice and disheartens your creative muse.
2. Junk the main character (this will mean a major rewrite)
It would be insanity to junk your main character… or would it? In at least half of novels which collapse, the reason is your main character. He or she bores YOU, so guess how a reader will feel — yes, your readers won’t like the character either, so you’ve lost nothing.
You’ll be amazed that as soon as you decide to kill off this character, another character will step forward into the limelight: and he/ she will belong there.
Alternatively, you’ll discover a way to make your main character care more. Either way, ideas will flood in, and you’ll soon be happily writing.
3. Power up a meek and milky plot (yep, rewrite extensively)
When a book needs help, it’s because the central story question is weak, and your novel lacks narrative drive:
Something important MUST be at stake in your story. If not literal life or death, then metaphorical life or death. When there’s nothing at stake, readers don’t care, and they won’t read.
4. Juice up the conflict in EVERY scene (aim to resolve major conflicts)
Every scene in your novel MUST have conflict.
In our writing group, we often talk about how challenging it is to ensure that we have conflict on every page, but it’s essential. Think about the conflict in your daily life. Do you get along with everyone? Of course you don’t.
Moreover, you always have more conflicts with the people to whom you’re closest — you care more.
Aim to resolve the big conflicts, but the minor ones — general family conflicts, especially sibling conflicts, and conflicts which arise from office politics — you needn’t resolve. These conflicts are just part of life.
5. Genre check: find the best genre for your novel
Occasionally, when a novel goes wrong, it’s because you’ve chosen the wrong genre.
For example, you’re writing mystery, or so you think. However, you keep wanting to write scenes from the murderer’s point of view (POV.) The entire point of a mystery is of course the mystery — who dunnit — so you can’t do that.
What if you changed genres, and wrote a thriller? Now you can happily write from the murderer’s POV.
Another example. You’re writing a rom-com, supposedly a funny novel, but it’s falling flat. What if you wrote a humorous historical romance? Set the novel in ancient Rome, or in the 1950s. Yes, you’d need to research, but such a huge change might do wonders for your inspiration.