How to Save a Novel That's Going Wrong
Updated: Nov 25, 2021
We’ve all been there. You sit down to write. You get a character or two. You think you’ve got a good idea. You start writing. You start to realise the story has a few holes. You keep writing. You start to realise the story is awful. You keep writing. You write more holes. You write more awful. You get to the end. You hate it. You feel terrible. You edit it. You feel worse.
Trust me, I've been there.
Here are some things to consider doing when writing your story goes wrong.
Revisit the Whole Point of Writing Your Story in the First Place
Most people want to write a story because they’ve had a great idea. It’s something they want to do, something they want to see, or something they need to talk about. But there’s a problem. The plot is terrible, or the characters are terrible, and people are telling you your story sucks.
So what do you do?
You've told yourself you’re a terrible writer, so of course you don’t know what to do. You’re not sure if you should just stop or if you should just keep writing and hope the plot comes along. The plot might not be the problem. The characters might not be the problem. The problem may well be that you didn’t know the point you were trying to make in the first place.
Before you write a story, you have to know the point you're trying to make.
You had a great idea for a story, so let's fix it. The best way to do that is go back to your point, your plot, and your characters.
What's The Point?
Every story should have a point.
It's kind of obvious from some genres. The core of all romance books is love conquers all. You might have a variation on that theme, but that's the core of romance.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone's point is you can find your people, no matter how alone you feel.
Even Delia Smith's Cooking for One makes the point that just because you're on your own doesn't mean you have to live on microwave meals.
What's The Story?
Plot on its own is useless. I always tell my clients that story is the intersection of plot and character.
To plan and write a story with momentum and meaning, you need to hold story and structure and meaning in your mind.
What happens if you put the character of Jane Eyre into Jackie Collins's The Bitch? A totally different story, that's what.
The way to fix a broken manuscript is to go back to your plan (you do have a plan, don't you?) then check everything supports the point you're trying to make.
Do your characters behave in a way that's logical and believable?
Have you established what they want, what's at stake, and why they make the decisions they do?
Does cause-and-effect tie everything together? Every scene you write must feed into the next because of your characters' decisions.
If you have a point, characters, and a plot, then you have a story. Characters have a personality, personality has a voice, and a voice has emotion. Emotion has a goal, and a goal has a conflict, and if you have a conflictn then you have an even better story.
If you didn't have a plan, go make one. Fix your story.
Get Honest Feedback.
Getting honest feedback is a very important part of the writing process. You might be the best writer in the world, but if you can't take criticism, you'll never improve. You might find that beta readers, your book coach, or other professionals don't engage with your story. That's okay. Ask them why and think about the reasons they have for not engaging with the story. Are they telling you the plot doesn't make sense? Are they saying you need to develop the characters more? Or maybe they're saying the payoff doesn't meet the promise.
This is all valuable feedback.
Just because someone doesn't engage with your story doesn't mean they are saying you are a terrible writer. Look at their feedback and really think about how you can improve your story.