When Your Novel Sags.Nov 30, 2017
So you're at 30-40k and it's all gone a bit saggy.
Here are 3 reasons why.
First of all WELL DONE for creating so much material. Hats off and I'm betting you’ve struggled on and dragged the novel along against your own fading hopes for a few chapters now.
Fear not. If a novel sags - it’s usually easily diagnosed and fixed.
1. Your character is TOO close to you in gender, age, background and location.
We are never meaner or less sympathetic to anyone than we are to ourselves. So that’s not a good ‘hero’ for a novel because if you’re lacking in sympathy for your hero or heroine, the reader will be too.
There are quick fixes:
1. A Make-Over - change everything superficial about the main character. This is my ‘back of the head’ test. You must be able to see the back of her head. Immediately, that’s not you since you haven't seen yours. Immediately, it asks you to think about their hair colour and build, their posture (tense, nervous, headache?) and all the wonderful assumptions that other people make with regard to tall, short, fat, thin persons etc. Change their age. Change their location. Change their socio-economic background. Then change their name too to see things freshly.
2. Major Surgery - change gender. This is the easiest way for anyone to write a first novel.
Now, take a couple of days to build a portrait of your main character on one page of your Moleskine. One page is just right. Steal from the people you see, know, work with over the next few days. HIS taste in music. HER clothes. HIS family background. HER way of speaking. HIS interests. HER illnesses. Cobble them together.
But at THE HEART OF IT grant them your own greatest flaw or failing. We have a deep desire to treat and cure it or at least face it in our writing. Refer to the Kritikme Five F’s which begin with 'FLAW'. Follow the guidance to creating character below.
2. Conflict is TOO remote.
Conflict makes the pages turn. If you can see the back of your hero’s head, you need to have the antagonist or anti-hero RIGHT in their face, day in day out, page in page out, making things a whole lot worse and forcing our hero to face things. So, if your conflict is from a remote point of origin (alien forces, the government, mankind etc) then have one person in your book a neat and complete fit with the mentality, attitude or philosophy.
3. The worse things that happen to your character are not happening here.
Either the worse thing happened in chapter one or before the book. No! Build sympathy, show us that this person is probably not going to be able to deal with what might go wrong, then have it go wrong and watch them flail as things get even worse. That’s a novel for you. (Ouch…..OUCH....OWWW!)
So, how do you fix it now you’re 30 - 40k into the book?
Revise from the beginning. Insert an opening chapter which shows us the person’s flaw. Think of David Lurie reckoning he’s got sex cracked as the first line in ‘Disgrace’. End the chapter with everything changing to show that maybe he or she is not so sorted after all. You may or may not end up keeping this. I bet you do, but either way it will orientate you nicely for development now.
Press on creating the material with this whole new character and catch the earlier chapters in the second draft.
Personally, I’d be tempted to go for a midway point between the two and do a working revise, taking big chunks of material over a short period of time ie 5-8k a day, after I’d set up that opening chapter.
Every scene will come alive when you know what he or she is capable of, and you have a ready point of conflict up close and personal.
Don't dally. Make it exciting. Remember you need to know what each person is capable of, for your fingers to hover over that button of their in every chapter without pressing it, and your readers need to have a question to answer at the end of every scene. (How the hell is he or she going to deal with THIS!)
If you don't know, so much the better, because tomorrow you'll be racing to get back to the white page and find the door handle, the emergency brake or the banana skin for them.