This past year, I wrestled and wrangled with a manuscript over and over, trying to skillfully execute what I knew was a good story idea with engaging characters.
But it wasn’t coming together.
No matter how many times I pored over the chapters, marked up the drafts, and reconsidered point of view and setting and tense and so on, the book just didn’t feel right. It wasn’t yet the book it could be, the book I would want to pull off a bookstore shelf.
The book wasn’t working.
So I stepped back and took a fresh look at the whole kit-and-caboodle. Where had I gone astray? Why was my wonderful story with characters I loved so difficult to get onto the page?
If you feel your manuscript is going off track, don’t give up. You can turn it around.
Replot the book. If you’re a plotter, you already got down the whole story before you wrote, but maybe once you wrote, it simply didn’t pan out on the page. If you’re a pantser, maybe you may meandered a little and have some parts where the story sags.
If things haven’t turned out like you wanted, perhaps you need a different plot or a major or minor tweak in your current one. Create or revisit your outline. Make sure you can trace the story arc and the character arc. Check for plausible plot points and believable character motivation. If you see something gone awry, be willing to shift your plot to make the story stronger.
Streamline your characters. Do you really need all of those people? Do they all serve a vital purpose in moving the story along? Could you combine characters into a composite that works harder and smarter to engage the reader? Do you need to introduce any characters to fulfill archetype roles your main character needs to support his/her journey?
Check your character list, and be willing to shove out anyone who isn’t pulling their weight. If you absolutely love a character and hate to see them go, pull out the sections on him/her, save them, and later insert that character into a different story that better fits their role.
Check every chapter. Does every chapter matter? Does every chapter move the story along? Is every chapter engaging in its own right? Ask yourself if a reader would be compelled to read the whole book no matter what chapter he/she turned to first.
The difference between a good book and a great book is maintaining intensity throughout. Even in slower sections, confirm there is tension and what happens matters to the main character’s growth. Don’t cheat the reader by brushing over setting, emotion, and conflict. Dig deep and mine each moment for what it adds to the overall story. Make every single chapter strong, and the whole book will be stronger.
Get a second opinion. Sometimes we’ve been over a book so many times, we can’t see it fresh anymore. Find a beta reader and ask them to read chapters or the whole book and provide feedback. Ask specific questions that concern you. For instance: Where did your interest wane, even a bit? Which characters did you relate to? Did any characters feel one-dimensional or unnecessary? Where do you think the story could be strengthened?
A good beta reader is a valuable ally. (I’m blessed to have two fabulous ones.) Find someone who won’t sugarcoat their answers but who is firmly in your corner and wants you to succeed as a writer. Then open yourself up to helpful criticism and use their advice to help you figure out why your book isn’t working.
I’m happy to report that my wrestled-and-wrangled manuscript is now being lassoed into a proper novel. It was a bit heart-rending to kill my previous plot and restart the process, but it beats staying in a chokehold with my writing.
If your book isn’t working, do what you must to fix it. You can do this! You can tell your story and tell it well. You and your readers will be happy you made the extra effort.