What if you’re halfway through your novel and it just doesn’t feel convincing? Do you scrub the project? Keep wallowing on through the muck? How do you know what’s right?
Annick posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
I’ve had a story theme that I’ve wanted to write as a novel for 4-5 years. My first breakthrough was discovering your Snowflake method, which really helped me to get started, define where I wanted to go, and how I was going to get there (eternally grateful)…
The trouble is, now I’m half way through my second draft, and I believe that the last half of my story isn’t convincing. I know where I want to end, and I believe that I’ve told a good story to about half way along the road, but I’m really not sure that the last few miles are ones I can write as well about as the first.
Any ideas? Should I work on different endings to see if I get a breakthrough? Should I carry on regardless and edit like a devil once I’ve got some meat on the bone? Does it mean that my main characters are flawed in some way I can’t determine? Is the first part of my story misdirected in some way?
The snowflake seems to have melted…
Randy sez: First of all, congratulations on getting through the first draft! That’s a major milestone in writing a novel. I’m delighted to hear that my pesky Snowflake method played a role in your getting there. I hear from writers all the time who’ve found it helpful, and that makes me incredibly happy.
Be aware that many, many, many novelists reach the same point you’re at, midway through editing the second draft, and suddenly get hit with a bad case of the “crappies.” As in, “Uh-oh, my novel is crappy and my story is worthless and I have no talent and probably my best career choice will be sweeping streets with a toothbrush.”
I suspect the solution to your problem is pretty simple. Let me lay it out for you in three stages:
- Finish this second draft you’re on. Sure, you feel a little wobbly about it right now. That’s common. It might possibly even be normal. If you’ve ever run a race over a mile distance (or 1600 meters), the third lap can be pretty rough, and that’s about where you are right now in your race to finish this book.
- Get a second opinion from somebody you trust. Maybe a skilled writer in your critique group who has shown herself trustworthy in the past. Maybe a good freelance editor. But you need somebody to read the whole manuscript and give you an objective viewpoint. (“Objective” here means “somebody who isn’t you.”) You may need to pay something for this, but very good friends often do it for free.
- Read that opinion, and then read through the whole manuscript as fast as you can, making a few quick notes on what you see, now that your eyes have been opened by a second opinion.
Once you’ve done all of the above (yes, it’s a lot of work, but professional writers work really hard), make the decision. Do you go on with the project? Do you walk away from it?
Either decision can be valid. If the story is fundamentally flawed and can’t be fixed, then walk away. If you’ve just lost all taste for the story and you can’t stomach working on it for one more second, then walk away. But if you see renewed hope for a way to make the story work, well then.
It might take you a month or two to get there, but when you do, email me privately on my Contact page to let me know how it turned out. I’ll be interested to hear what you learned and which way you decided to go.
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.
Carrie Lynn Lewis says
An incredibly timely post. I’m between drafts, too. I finished the first draft and am so bogged down trying to figure out the second draft that I decided to take a two-week break.
The advice you gave Annick will hopefully be just as helpful to pushing through the planning for me as it will be for Annick in pushing through the second draft.
I completed (very nearly) my first draft and was overcome by the crappies. It’s taken me two years to rethink what I really wanted to say in the novel, and after a couple of false starts I’ve started heavily editing my Snoflake plan today. About two hours before your latest post arrived in my in-box.
Chance favours the prepared mind, or something.
Gayle Messick says
I ran across this same problem with two of my stories, but on Randy’s site he makes reference to Larry Brook’s Storyfix.com website and book Story engineering. Thanks Randy! This really helped me with my drafts. Although it is causing me to spend more time editing, at least now I know what to edit.
I too use the snowflake program and I follow Randy’s book, but storyfix gives a layer of craft I was missing.
Charles Harris says
Another nice article – if you don’t mind I’ll put a link from my own screenwriting blog.
I see the same issues with scripts (mine and those I’ve been asked to help with) and I believe that just about every credibility problem can be solved if you have the guts to stick with it and be totally honest. With one exception.
Usually the problem comes from trying too hard. Rather than trying to create a dramatic effect, if I stand back and ask myself “what would really happen in real life” then the answer generally reveals itself. Though it sometimes takes courage to go with an answer that you don’t expect, if you are open and trust your instincts, a much better story can emerge.
The exception is when you’re trying to do two things that just don’t work in the same story. Then you have to be ruthless and cut one of them out. It’s painful, but it’s the only way. And you can reassure yourself that the brilliant idea you cut out is now available to be used in a new script/novel. Two for the price of one!
J.R. McGinnity says
I’ve been where you are. I’ve had to scrap an entire novel before (in large part due to what Charles Harris said about when I had two different things going in the same story). Neither could stand alone the way they were, and there was no fixing them. So I scrapped them and moved on.
My other novel, which is now my best and which I hope to publish this fall, suffered first due to a case of the crappies, and then due to my realization that it had a sagging middle. To fix this, I did what should be done to every sagging middle–worked hard, and made it work hard too. I added some tension, wove the tension into the beginning and the end, made sure those new muscles held the middle in place, and passed it on to another reader to make sure it wasn’t just me that thought it was better. I whipped that novel into shape, and both of us came out stronger.
What I’m trying to say is that some novels can’t be saved. Maybe I could have saved that first one by splitting it into two separate, but I didn’t have the vision of either one of them standing alone, and it would have taken as much work to do that as it would to write a novel that didn’t have that fatal flaw. So examine your novel. Is it impossible, or just sagging? Is there a real problem, or do the people you pass it on to think it’s great (or good but in need of some more work)?
Making a story convincing is always a challenge that I have. Usually more so than the story, however, is making certain passages of dialogue convincing, not forced.
I think the most important thing is getting external feedback. To us–the writers–huge portions of the book may feel forced or unconvincing that the reader just simply doesn’t notice. I might add to that list of people of whom to get a second opinion: someone who fits your market demographic. If you are writing a type of novel of which a few of your friends generally read the same genre, ask them to take a look at it. After all, they are who your audience is, not just editors.
Thanks for the post. As I finish my ebook series I will take your advice into cooperation. :]