Monday, June 11, 2007

What to do when it starts to fall apart.

Has this happened to you? Your plot outline is nice and detailed, you've written half your book in record time and yet you have this horrible feeling it's not working.

Maybe your characters aren't behaving, or your big plot twist is more of a slight bend, or you've crammed in too many subplots ... whatever it is, you start to feel swamped and the big worry is that there may be too many problems to overcome.

I've experienced D) all of the above during the writing of each of my four books to date, and so these days I expect this kind of self-doubt. The only thing I have on some of you is that I've worked my way through it and am fairly confident of doing so again. I still experience strong self-doubt, though. Just ask my family.

So, remind yourself that it's quite normal for a novel to go through the disorganised mess stage. in fact, you can plan for it and even insure against it. Here's how:

First, if you have a major plot and several subplots, concentrate on writing the major plot scenes first. Leave markers in the text describing the subplot scenes and then skip over them.

Couple of reasons: One is focus, because you're sticking to the main plot and so it's harder to stray. Two is structure, because it's easier to follow the main plot arc if that's all you're writing. Three is complexity and word count: if you leave the subplot scenes until last you can drop an entire subplot if it doesn't work any more. You can add another subplot if needed, and you can also work out how many words you have to play with to meet your target count.

Example: You're writing a 100,000 word novel and your main plot alone comes in at 75,000 words. If you were planning five different sub-plots you'll now be able to work out how many words you can spend on each. Believe me, agents do not want to see sprawling 300,000 word novels from first time authors. Dropping subplots and characters after the fact is a lot more work than not writing them in the first place.

Next, only write your protagonist's scenes. If it's a multiple viewpoint novel, just put summaries in your text for scenes from the antagonist and secondary character POV. Why? Because while you're writing the protagonist's scenes you'll keep getting ideas for the other characters, and you can just dump those ideas into your notes. It's also much easier to get in character and write an authentic POV if you're not head-hopping every couple of thousand words.

Another reason for writing all of one viewpoint first: By finishing the protagonist's scenes you'll know exactly what the other characters have to do in their own scenes. No major rewrites and no wasted words. Again, if you're heading for a massive doorstopper of a novel you can cut out some of the secondary character scenesa and write less for the rest.

When I started writing my first novel I began at chapter one and tried to type the whole thing out sequentially, right through to The End. Nowadays I'm convinced that's the wrong way to approach the task. Look to the world of film for the best example: Movies are always shot out of sequence so that actors and sets can be employed for the shortest possible time.

Translating that to writing, it's easier to have consistent characters and locations if you stay with them until their scenes are done. And remember, your readers won't know how you built the thing. It's the result that counts.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

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