7 Reasons Your Novel Isn’t Working


You’re Just Not That Into It
When you start writing a new novel, it’s like the honeymoon phase of a new love affair. Everything about your story is soooo interesting. You could sit for days and just stare into your protagonist’s eyes. By the time you’ve written the first one-third of your book though, the bloom is off the rose. If you’re not truly compatible with the book you’re trying to write, this is the time you’ll get those red flags loud and clear. Everyone hits that hump in the middle, but if you only dread writing your story and you’re never excited to see it again, it’s time to seriously reevaluate this project.

Your Characters Aren’t Clear on Their Objectives
It’s okay for your characters to be confused, as long as that’s part of their characterization. If they start our innocent and sweet, and then slowly turn maliciously wicked, that’s a journey. If they start out sweet, go to wicked, turn sweet again, and then run through apathetic, zany, and vengeful, they might be suffering from multiple personality disorder. Take it scene by scene and ask yourself, “What does my character really want out of this?” With solid characters, even their inconsistencies are consistent as they pursue objectives the reader can understand.

You’re Trying to Combine Two (or More) Books into One
I see this happen a lot with fantasy writers when they try to transfer the incredibly rich, complex worlds of their imaginations down onto the page. The human brain can hold countless fantastical universes, each populated by millions of magical individuals, but an average novel only runs about 300 pages. If you’ve hit 500 pages of material with no end in sight, take another hard look at the storyline and consider the possibility that you might be writing a trilogy.

You’re Forcing It
We covered some of this in Beginning Your Book but it bears repeating: Let your characters do what they want. To get the most charismatic, magnetic characters to populate your story, you have to treat them like real people. That means that even if you disagree with their behavior or choices (and like real people, it’s very likely you will at some point), you still give them the respect and freedom they deserve as independent beings. If you’re pushing your characters in one direction and they fall flat, that’s a sign of resistance. Ease up, let them lead, and they’ll tell you where they really want to go.

Your Expectations Are Out of Control
Most writers are perfectionists. This is a neurotic tendency that comes in very handy during the editing stages. However, this same tendency can make the actual writing stage a nightmare. If you’re writing a chapter and then going back immediately to rip it apart and rewrite it—stop doing that. Your story can feel you picking it at it like a scab that’s not ready to come off. The more you pick, the more it withdraws to protect itself. If you need help with letting your story flow out of you naturally, remind yourself of the difference between writing vs. editing.

You’ve Outgrown Your Idea
Writers start getting ideas for stories at a young age, sometimes as soon as they can read and write on their own. Some of these ideas do hold up over time, and the novel you pictured when you were 12 actually comes to fruition when you’re 25. But sometimes we hold onto story ideas for too long. By the time we write them down, years have passed and we’re different people. If you planned to write an angry, white-hot manifesto of a novel at 18 and you don’t get around to it until you’re 35, you might not be so white-hot angry anymore. Take a few moments to examine if the values your novel holds are really still a good fit for you.

You’re Scared to Write the Novel that You Really Want to Write
…So instead you try to write a different one. It’s like that analogy of the love affair again. If you’re only dating someone because your parents want you to be with them, it’s highly unlikely the intangible spark of true love between you two will ever really be there. It’s the same thing with writing a novel. When you write the book you think you should be writing, and not the one that’s calling to you, you miss out on the real chemistry. And if you don’t answer that call, even when you’re 90 years old you won’t be able to forget the one that got away.

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