In Part One, we discussed how to assess whether the 50k manuscript produced during National Novel Writing Month – or NaNoWriMo – is long enough to be considered a novel. We concluded that this depends largely on your publishing goals, but generally speaking, most people haven’t fully fleshed out their story by the time they reach the 1st of December. Which isn’t really surprising; most writers take considerably longer to write a novel than thirty days! However, finishing NaNoWriMo is a great start, and will definitely determine whether or not the concept has enough impetus behind it to succeed.
Once you feel confident that you have reached ‘The End’ of your fiction project, what next? A lot of NaNoWriMo ‘winners’ quickly find their elation turns to bewilderment and overwhelm, especially if they are fairly new writers. Others are so full of confidence that they dash their raw manuscript off to agents or publishers with hardly a second glance, only to have their hopes crushed when their work of obvious genius inevitably gets rejected.
Side Note: Getting a traditional publishing deal is NEVER as easy as it is in pretty much every film or show where one of the characters is a writer. Just another way in which the media has duped us by inflating the expectations of novice novelists.
You can probably guess that I don’t want you to be either overwhelmed or overconfident. All novels require some work, even if it’s just proofreading and checking consistency, before release into the public domain. But where on Earth do you begin starting to analyse your book objectively? Here are five tips to help you get to grips with your story:
- Identify Genre and Core Message
When we begin a new novel without much time to plan beforehand, the story we thought we were writing often changes. As do protagonists, settings, genre, and even the core message behind the plot. Take time to think about why you chose this particular story to write, and what you’re trying to say.
It’s a good idea to put this into a sentence you can refer back to when evaluating each scene. It could be something like, ‘A teenager must confront the bullies who ruined her childhood in order to solve her brother’s sudden disappearance.’ There’s a lot implied by this statement, which will help with fleshing out your underlying theme. For example, the world is a cruel place, but only by standing up for ourselves can we change things. It will probably take some dramatic events to force this bullied teen to feel capable of achieving her ends, but that is what we like to call plot and character development.
You can also use this theme statement to clarify genre. Consider the difference between ‘a teenager in Ancient Rome must confront the bullies who ruined her childhood in order to solve her brother’s sudden disappearance’ with ‘a teenager must confront the bullies who ruined her childhood in order to solve her brother’s sudden disappearance after a terrorist attack.’ Or abduction by a local gang. Or aliens. Or vampires. You get the picture.
- Whose Story are you Telling?
A very common mistake new writers make is called ‘head hopping’. This is when the viewpoint changes without warning during a scene. Novels written very quickly – like during NaNoWriMo – are likely to suffer from this glitch, because the author hasn’t decided from the outset who the main protagonist is. Make sure you stick to one character’s viewpoint per scene unless you have deliberately chosen an omniscient style of narration. Reassess your manuscript and identify your characters in order of importance to the plot, and make sure they’re around at the beginning of your story. If you can’t pick a main character, you probably haven’t given anyone a strong motivation or a fully fleshed-out personality. This leads to boring, indistinguishable characters that are nothing more than physical descriptions.
- Pacing Problems
If you began NaNoWriMo without a plan, it’s likely it took you a few thousand words to get into the story. If your opening chapters contain a lot of description and/or background, you can probably delete it entirely or heavily condense it without harming the plot. At the very least, you should jot down a few words to identify the core conflict of each scene, checking that you see plenty of ‘white space’ on each page, not just long blocks of description. Have characters reveal information through their speech and interactions rather than telling the reader what to think and feel. Make sure the core conflict is resolved by the end of each scene.
- Delivery on Time. That’s a promise!
Make sure the reader expectations you set at the beginning of the story are fulfilled by the end. For example, if you made it clear your character was heartbroken after being dumped by her first love, is she over him by the end? Or is she now a psychotic stalker? Met someone else? Or did you forget about your romantic subplot by the time she had figured out how to disable the nuclear bomb set to detonate in 24 hours? If a reader is expecting a romance and gets something else without resolving the underlying conflict, they aren’t going to be happy. Confusing or contrived endings are another no-no. Think how disappointed people were by Lost and Dallas. Basically, don’t sell something if you can’t deliver it.
- Find an Intelligent Reader of your Genre
Do you have any bookish friends or acquaintances who read widely in your genre? Ask them to read the first few chapters of your book for some feedback. If they ask to read more, that’s a good sign. Give them specific questions to answer. For example, ‘Did you sympathise with the protagonist? If not, why not?’; ‘Were there any parts you skimmed over or were some scenes more exciting or interesting than others?’; ‘What do you think will happen next?’ This will make it easier for them to provide honest, constructive feedback to guide you as you take your novel forward.
After completing these five steps, your manuscript should be in much better shape. If you want to learn more about self-editing, sign-up for a FREE 3-day course here, or if you’re ready for professional feedback, check out my affordable range of editing services. Remember, I offer sample edits of up to 1000 words.
Ciao for now,