Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Feeling Something is Wrong

Alphonse Charles Masson--1814-1898--Portrait of Alfred Cadart--Etching, 1874 All day on Monday, I had the feeling that something was wrong.

I’d set my writing goal for the day. I had a couple of errands that I needed to do.

But I felt completely lethargic. And I couldn’t think very well. I wrote some pages and looked at them with disbelief. I’d written this?

The kids came home from school. I started going through backpacks and getting supper ready…very sloooowwly.

Finally I realized—I needed to go to the doctor.

Sinus infection.

If I’d only paid attention to myself earlier, maybe I could have started on an antibiotic the day before.

Y’all know I’m a fan of editing after the first draft is finished. But sometimes there’s just something wrong with the manuscript—an underlying, bad feeling that you get when you sit down to work with it.

If you don’t address that feeling that something is wrong, you could get so frustrated with the manuscript that you give up on it.

Yesterday I focused on potholes in stories to be edited out at the end. Below are some big, content-type problems that sometimes need special attention—maybe even while writing the first draft.

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.
  • The plot is too derivative. You haven’t spun the old plot until it seems like something fresh.
  • 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 no hook to the novel.
  • There’s only external conflict and no internal conflict for the main character.
  • The protagonist is unlikeable.
  • The protagonist isn’t interesting enough to carry a story.
  • The reader might not be able to tell who the protagonist is.
  • 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).

What do you do when you realize one or more of these things are happening? Some people start over from scratch. Some people will finish the manuscript and then do major revisions afterwards.

I like to just mark the point in the manuscript that I realized the problem with Microsoft Word’s highlighter…and start, at that point, writing differently for the rest of the book. I fix the original problem during revisions.

Have you run into these problems before? What do you do when you realize they’re happening?


Tomorrow, my guest at Mystery Writing is Murder will be Kathy McIntosh. She'll give us 7 tips for better brainstorming with her post "Get Drenched in Ideas." Please join us!