So you’ve been doing this writing thing for a while, maybe years. Yet you frequently find yourself stuck in the same place. You get halfway through your novel/novelette and you lose steam. Perhaps you can manage to finish a short story, but you struggle with anything longer. You tend to get lost in the plot or worse still you’re bored of your own work. Don’t fret if this sounds like you. It happens to us all.
You have a stack of unfinished projects. You’ve tried different methods, obsessive outlining v.s. go-with-the-flow. Your ideas are good, some of them are brilliant. So why then, are you so prone to apathy?
I can’t claim to have a cure for all your ills. I can’t offer a lifetime guarantee that the following suggestions will turn you into a prolific and successful writer. At least I’m not asking you for any money for my advice right? So here are my thoughts to help you through things:
#1 – Forget your plot – shift your attention
Characters should be the focus of your story
I could wrap this blog post up right here, but I guess that would be a little lazy.
Think about your favourite book(s) and then try to pinpoint what made that story stand out to you. I’d be willing to wager that the answer will be a certain character.That is what makes good stories memorable, above all else.
You can have a vibrant setting, intricate world building, and/or an elaborate plot, but none of those things will carry a story if you don’t put equal or greater effort into building your characters. The people in your story are what your readers relate to; we’ve all built interesting mental attachments to imaginary people. If you want to write a book that people love, or even just a story that you love yourself, then you need to focus on the people within your story.
#2 – Do the groundwork
Know your characters
Each character needs to be as unique as each person in real life.
Build a character biography for each person in your story. Start with the basics, hair colour, eye colour, name, age and so on. With minor characters you can stick to these points. For your bigger players try to include things such as; their biggest fear, their happiest memory, what they do when they’re nervous, their secret passion e.t.c.
Some of these things may never make it into your book, but what is important is that you know these people inside and out. Only then can you have a hope of writing them in a convincing manner.
I’m not saying you can forget about all the other elements. After all, Sherlock Holmes would be a very dull man if he didn’t have any interesting cases to highlight his brilliance as a character. You have to write interesting people with interesting skills and fascinating flaws, even ‘ordinary’ characters with no skills can react to an exciting adventure in an interesting way.
The minute you shift your focus, you’ll find yourself wanting to find out what happens to them, how they get out of tricky situations, who they fall in love with or anything else that you chose to throw at them through the journey. If you are interested, then your readers will be interested too.
#3 – Remain consistent
Character for sale – I forgot his name because he’s not important (may not actually be a ‘he’)
You’d be surprised at how easily you note one person having blue eyes in chapter three and by the time you get to chapter twenty they’ve ended up with brown eyes (unless of course you’re writing fantasy and a change in eye colour is part of the plot somehow – this would be allowed!) Or a similar mistake such as having a character mention that he can’t swim at the start of the story, then at the end you have him skilfully doing strokes up a raging river. You may miss it in the edits, but I promise your readers won’t and if you lose them on the details, then you’ll lose their interest.
This goes back to the idea of having a character bio for each person, but if you really can’t do that then you must be prepared to edit rigorously.
A fellow author told me he made the mistake of writing identical twins into his story with the names Terry and Kerry. It’s a wonderful idea, but awfully tricky in practice. He described his woes of reading through the first draft and finding that he got completely muddled up with the names and the traits of each brother and spent a lot of time and effort trying to unmuddle it in the editing.
So be straight on who each character is and what they can or can’t do and if something changes be sure to explain how or why that is.
#4 – Nobody’s perfect
Hero for hire – Can do anything and everything and never puts a foot wrong
There is no such thing as a perfect person.
If you’re going to tell me that your story involves a race of aliens who have evolved into a perfect set of people then good luck to you. I am going to tell you that they are boring.
Readers relate to character flaws more strongly than they do character skills. One of my favourite heroines has an amusing need to clean everything, bordering on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Did I just say a disorder was amusing? I meant no offense to anyone who suffers in real life. In literary form it is funny as the character leads a band of miscreants working outside of the law who invariably wind up living in dirty and unsanitary digs, meaning our leading lady spends an inordinate amount of time trying to clean up.
Your characters cannot be perfect. There must be a balance to make them interesting. Think of your own flaws. Perhaps you’re great in bed but terrible with romance (or vice versa). Maybe you can shoot the centre of a target whilst blindfolded, but you’re deathly afraid of spiders. What if you’ve lost count of the number of times you’ve accidentally clipped the corner of your car on that awkwardly placed wall at the end of your drive (who put that stupid wall there anyway?) Readers crave these little moments where characters show them their vulnerabilities. So don’t deprive them of that.
Synopsis: Put more effort into your characters than you currently do.
I hope some of these points will help you in your quest to finish writing a novel.