Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Listen to your writer's "gut"

This week my new novel took a wrong turn. How did I know? I had to stop writing. I kept resisting writing any more of that chapter. I kept thinking about why it didn't "feel right". And what does "feel right" mean anyway? Was it the novel and the plot, or was I just finding a new way to procrastinate? Finally, during an hour-long car trip, I set myself to thinking about what I'd written and why, and why it wasn't working.

I managed to work out that I'd given a character an action that was wrong on several levels. It didn't fit who he was at that point (and I hadn't done a lot of background work on him, either, but I did know that), and it gave him away too easily as the "villain". I'm writing a MG mystery and red herrings and clues are important. Any awake reader would twig straight away.

So back to the manuscript the next day and two pages got deleted. Luckily I had listened to my gut and stopped before I got too much further along. It can be a lot harder to delete whole chapters, or even half the book. What usually happens is the writer can't bear to waste all that writing, and they hang on like grim death to the mountain of words that they've created, thinking there must be a way to fix it later. It inevitably leads to a flawed story, and sometimes one that can't be fixed.

Here are some other instances of "something's not right" that you should listen to:

  • A character doesn't feel real, or you have them do something that doesn't fit with who they are (usually so the plot will work).
  • You've got so many characters you have to keep a list, and then you start to wonder how a reader is going to keep track (and you hate character lists in the front of books).
  • Dialogue feels stilted or inconsequential. It might be giving the reader plot information or showing character, but is doing nothing much else. You kinda like it (it's how you talk, or your friends) but you keep reading over it and ...
  • You can see the setting in your head but you're starting to wonder if a reader will be able to.
  • It seems like there is a lot of action going on, but the story itself doesn't feel like it's going anywhere.
  • You think about reading your first chapter aloud to an audience and cringe.
  • You have finished a revision of your novel and you desperately want to start sending it out and querying, but ... something holds you back.

There are lots more examples of this, but you get the idea, I'm sure. If something in your manuscript is niggling at you, it's a sure sign that you need to rewrite, even if you don't know why. I recommend a long car trip or a long walk!


Anonymous said...

The bottom 4 points happen to me with EVERY novel I write!

Karen Tyrrell said...

Hi Sheryl, Thanks so much for your practical advice on putting an explanation to your gut feelings...
"I can relate"
Good luck with your writing too ... Karen T :)

Sherryl said...

Bren - I know what you mean. There's always something that tells you, even if you ignore it!

Sherryl said...

Thanks, Karen. We just have to keep at it. I've put a "word meter" on the blog now to keep myself going! Kind of like an ongoing Nanowrimo.