Thursday, 3 June 2010

How not to fix your novel

Sometimes the cure is worse than the cause. You know things aren't quite right with your novel - it's pretty good, in the main, but there are still a few areas that need work. You haven't got time to re-structure it and throw away all the words you spent ages writing – you've been at it for years already - there must be a quick fix, right?

Wrong. Here are some sure signs that an author knows something isn't right, but hasn't taken the time to fix it properly.

Attempting to allay potential reader disbelief by getting a character or narrative to directly address it.

'I thought to myself, why am I about to burn this entire street down with petrol? Me, a middle-class school teacher with a loving husband and three beautiful kids who hasn't shown a vaguely deviant tendency for the entire novel so far. Why am I doing this?'

Yeah, why are you doing it? Whatever the reason, it has to be justified and believable in the context of the story for that character. If it doesn't wash, the reader won't buy it, no matter how much the author shows she's aware of the problem.

Motivational explanations after the event.

'You see, the reason I burnt that street down was because I was bullied at school.'

Whatever. So why didn't you tell us before we stopped reading?

Attempting to create suspense by being vague.

'I pick up the plastic tube and wrap it around my head. That terrible thing that happened to me, that terrible thing that I am about to do, that thing that I haven't even decided what it's going to be yet will be so bad and so terrible and so completely vague that if you've even read this far you really need to get a life.'

Vagueness does not create intrigue. Detail and fore-knowledge creates expectation and suspense.

Trying to project story interest by asking questions.

'Sally was thinking. How could she get her boyfriend back? How could she find her dream job? Why was her mother so horrible to her? And will anybody continue reading?'

Probably not. Writing questions does not make the reader want the answers. You have to create dramatic questions in the readers head, then he'll start to want answers.

Any other quick-fixes you've come across or found yourself guilty of? I know I've done most of the above.


  1. Love this post!!!!! And, um, guilty?

    If it's okay, we will definitely include this in our Friday round-up of Best Articles This Week for Writers.

    Thank you so much,

    Martina & Marissa

  2. The guilt! It burns!

  3. Smokin', James! Worth a tweet!
    I've done all of these, plus trying to slip in the dodgy development by having an unrelated plot twist immediately after, thus diverting attention from the ropey bit. Naughty.

  4. @Martina&Marissa - it goes without saying I'd be delighted to be included in your Friday round-up. Thank you so much.

    @averyoslo don't worry, the guilt passes!

    @Roz I like the idea of dodgy development side-swiped by an unrelated plot-twist - it might just work...

  5. No one's admitting anything, I see...

  6. No, to be fair, Lexi, Roz admitted to all of them plus one of her own!