When your ideas stall or you’ve written yourself into a corner, maybe it’s time to do something radical to shake things up and revise your book.
You’re stuck. Something about your book just isn’t working, but you’re not quite sure what it is. Time for drastic measures.
Yes, you could tinker away at the sentence level or rearrange a few chapters here and there — but why not GO EXTREME!? At this point you’ve got nothing to lose.
You can always return to your original stinker of a draft if these attempts at radical revision fail, right? So yeah; you’re totally safe to play around and get your hands dirty.
Here are four things to try when your manuscript feels like it’s falling flat
1. Combine characters
Maybe you’re asking your readers (and yourself) to invest in too many characters at once. Instead, combine multiple people into a single (more) complex and (more) compelling character.
For instance, let’s say you’re telling the story of two sisters who inherited the family restaurant after their mother died. One sister is a free-spirited jazz saxophonist. The other is quiet, dutiful, and resentful of the other sister. Well, we all know how that’s going to play out!
Instead, try telling the story of an only child who feels an obligation to keep the restaurant going because there’s no one else to do it – but who resents this familial duty because it seems like a roadblock to her own goals and passions.
Suddenly all the psychic drama can occur within one person, and we can invest everything in following her struggle.
2. Cut to the good stuff
When does your novel get the MOST exciting? In the middle? Towards the end? Identify it and make THAT section the beginning of your book. It’s the “don’t bore us; get to the chorus” method of fiction writing.
Once you’ve kicked the action off at its most dramatic point, you’ll probably have to do some serious readjusting in order for the narrative structure to feel sturdy again.
But now by bouncing back and forth in time, you’ll create additional tension that wasn’t there in the previous version of the novel. When you’re in the present, your readers will be wondering, “how did things end up like this?” And when you rewind to fill in the back story, they’ll be worried about what’s happening in the present (future).
3. Do it over again, and write towards an uncertain ending
Sometimes a book loses all its steam in the wind-down. This weakness is easy to understand. The highpoint of drama has passed, and your writing starts to trail off the same way the characters or story might. BUT…
You can’t let that happen. Instead, go back to just before the highpoint of your story. Now the hard part: FORGET about the story you intended to write. Forget about what you thought should happen, and write a new life (or death) for your characters.
When you introduce mystery into the process, you might find new inspiration and learn things you didn’t even know you knew. You can keep the new version if it’s magical, or combine elements of both drafts into a third manuscript.
4. Change the tense or POV
Who’s talking? What are we told? And how? Sometimes something as simple (in theory) as changing the tense or POV can introduce a whole new tone to your writing.
The hard part of this, of course, is in the execution. Now that the narrative has been scripted out, you’ll have to go back through and tediously change the sentences, the observations, and the feelings on every page of your book to make them fit the shift.
OK. Those are just four ideas for radical revision. Have you employed any drastic measures to save your prose? Let us know in the comments below.
Images via ShutterStock.com.
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