How To Reboot Your Novel

In my last post I gave notice that the next Storyfix entry would be about defining story architecture. So here we are. Sort of.

Why? Because a few readers have expressed confusion – not so much with the comparison between architecture and structure, but with how to wrap one’s head around the term architecture in context to writing at all.

Welcome to fiction writing. Wrapping our head around how to get it right can be a lifelong pursuit.

So yesterday and today I wrote and rewrote that post several times, and each time I realized it was both redundant and not as good as the one I’d published here on September 5th. Which you can read HERE.

And now for another thing we need to wrap our writerly heads around —

How To Reboot Your Novel

Nobody is immune to the feeling – or the feedback – that our novel isn’t working. Whether that’s a surprise or not isn’t the issue. How we respond to it is.

Do we fold up our tent and move on? Do we defend and settle for mediocrity and a drawer full of rejection slips? Do we dive and try to repair the damage?

Or do we simply start over? Sometimes that’s the only option that will work. Unfortunately, it’s usually the last option we consider.

There are certain stories that can be saved with a tweak or a rewrite. And then there are those that need to be taken completely apart and rebuilt from scratch. 

It’s hard for writers to tell the difference because that’s how you wrote it in the first place. If you were aware it needed to be done differently you’d have made other choices.  And, as human beings, our first inclination is to defend our work.

But listen to that voice deep inside.  It rarely lies.  Sometimes it’s just not loud enough.

Which solution you choose is the determinant of your success. If laziness drives that decision – let’s face it, you put a lot of sweat into that latest draft – then this writing thing may not be your deal.

If you love your story enough, if you value your dream enough, then sooner or later you’ll muster the courage, and the realization, that you need to reboot the thing.

Here’s a process for doing that. The following steps will address issues of structure, characterization, theme and concept, which are in all likelihood the source of your need to reboot.

This isn’t a what, it’s a how.

If the problem is the writing itself… well, that’s another post entirely.

A Sequence for Starting Over

1. Read “Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting” by Syd Field (known best simply as “Screenplay”). It’s a basic 101 introduction to story structure, and with a few revised definitions of terminology and some loosening of parameters, everything in it applies to novels as much as it does to films.  His follow up books and workbooks are recommended, as well.

This single book can change your writing life. It did mine. It got me published.

2. Dive into this website. Focus on the Story Structure series, a 10-part entry (it’s actually 12 parts, with the intro and epilogue), and then study it to an extent you completely own that content. This is the bridge from Field’s material to the mindset of a novelist.

3. Do the same with my recent 7-part series on characterization. See the Archives, it’s all there for you.

4. Read everything I’ve written about theme… including my recent guest post at menwithpens.ca (the second post in, as of this writing; quick note: the title used there is not mine… you’ll see why I mention this).  This is the most-often overlooked element of fiction.

This material will give you a grounding, a boot camp if you will, on the elemental essence of storytelling, and it will greatly enhance your next effort.

I’m not intending to trumpet my own stuff here to the exclusion of the vast wealth of knowledge already out there, it’s all good, go for it. It’s just that I’ve managed to condense it all here to its purest essence.

In addition to the above, here’s the most important and first phase of rebuilding your story:

5. Write a compelling statement of concept for the story. Do it as a “what if?” proposition. Make it fresh, compelling, and rich with potential.

It’s important that this be a major upgrade from your current statement of concept. Don’t settle here, give yourself the gift of a story idea that keeps you up at night.

6. Write subsequent “what if?” questions that spring from that highest-level initial entry. These will explore possible directions the story can go, and eventually become plot points and character arc. Don’t think of them as that yet, just play with the concept and see where it goes. Be creative instead of predictable, be heavy and risky instead of safe.

This is story planning.

This is the thing that will take you to the next level. And because you have the benefit of already going down this story road, you’ll be better equipped than most to recognize the best available direction for the story, especially when it is in contrast to the one you’ve already written.

If you catch yourself sticking to your old story, stop everything and start over.

There’s much more to do, but this will light the fuse on your rewrite.

Have the courage to lose what isn’t working, even if you were in love with it.

The trick is to love your writing dream enough to do this work at this level, and embrace the process of creating excellence with a fresh vigor.

Remember, what you did previously, and how you did it, wasn’t good enough. To go down that path again is the very definition of insanity.

Do something different. With these tools, whatever that is will be a step in the right direction.

Note: I’m proud — and obligated — to tell you that I’m an Amazon.com affiliate, and that  if you buy Screenplay from Amazon after linking from this site, a few pennies will find their way into my pocket, as well.  Such is the requisite fine print of internet marketing.

3 Comments

Filed under getting published

3 Responses to How To Reboot Your Novel

  1. Great post! I just put Screenplay on hold at the library. My main reason for commenting, however, is your approach to the recent FCC guidelines for linking to books. Its refreshing to see it being addressed with pride, instead of the shame they seem to be hoping for.

  2. Patrick Sullivan

    I bought this book a while back based on a prior post where you mentioned it, took me a while due to non-writing commitments but I finally finished it. It really is a great take on writing that gave me a lot to think about even though my intent is more towards novels (although it has me pondering trying a screenplay as a form of outline at some point, though not for my current novel since I’m using NaNoWriMo to help kick start it.

    To everyone else who reads this blog, if you haven’t read the book yet click on through and pick it up. I got a copy from B&N because I wasn’t willing to wait on shipping at the time, and it’s worth every penny. And of course also worth picking up Larry’s ;-).

  3. Trish

    Another great post. And just what I needed. I’ve had a feeling my novel needs more work – just not sure how to go about it. Thanks for the first steps.