Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Signs Your Project Isn't Going Well

IMG_5308 What we have here is a failure to communicate. :Cool Hand Luke.

I don’t like to really sugarcoat my shortcomings.

When I’ve flunked at something, I’d rather acknowledge it and try something completely different.

As you can tell from the picture, I’m a lousy gardener.

Yes, it’s hot here in North Carolina. But I fry things on a regular basis. I should never be allowed to grow anything in a pot. It will die a horrid death because I’ll water it once a week.

I’m that way with reading and writing. I’m an impatient reader: if the author hasn’t connected with me after chapter two, I’m outta there.

If I’m failing to communicate with a scene, a bit of dialogue, a plot direction, I’ll scrap that, too. The longer I spend trying to write myself out of a box, the farther I seem to go into it.

Better to just jettison the weak part and bring in something new. I changed my murderer in mid-stream a couple of times last year. I kept wondering, “Now why did this person do it, again?” I kept fiddling with the manuscript and fiddling with it, trying to force this suspect to have committed the crime. A clear sign the person shouldn’t have done it at all. New killer! Nexttt!

Signs Something Isn’t Working:

  • You can’t logically explain what motivates the protagonist’s behavior.
  • Along the same lines, your character has completely changed with no reasonable explanation.
  • You can’t get into the protagonist’s head. They seem flat. You can’t identify with them at all.
  • The plot limps along with no discernable conflict.
  • There’s too much conflict and it changes from one thing to another. There’s no primary focus. There’s no theme, just 'the world vs. John Smith.’
  • There’s only external conflict and no internal conflict for the main character.
  • The protagonist is unlikeable.
  • There’s no readily-identifiable antagonist. There’s just bad stuff that happens.
  • Your content is a mess with flashbacks, backstory, telling instead of showing, too many dialogue tags, and point of view issues.
  • Your characters aren’t original. They’re more like stock characters (the alcoholic cop, the snooty society lady, the shy librarian).

I think we’re raised to avoid failure at all costs. But I believe it’s better in writing to just recognize a failure to communicate quickly and ruthlessly revise the problems in our stories. The earlier we recognize the problem, the sooner we can eliminate it.

Because I don’t want my books to go off to the editor looking like my potted plants.