- Guest Post by Lynne Cantwell
I suspect every writer has run into this. You tell someone that you write novels, and the person’s reply is along the lines of, “How wonderful! I keep thinking that I should write a book.” Well, maybe they should. And maybe they’ve tried, but the book isn’t working and they can’t figure out why.
I’m happy to help diagnose the problem. What I’ve observed with beginning writers is that usually the problem is one of two things: either they have a plot but no characters, or characters but no plot.
Plot but no characters: A good example is the fantasy gamer book, in which a thin plot is devised as a way to string together a series of scenes where stuff blows up real good. The Good Guys are trying to save something – a kingdom, a princess, whatever – and the bad guys are Evil Personified and Must Be Stopped. If you suspect this is your book’s problem, you can fix it by asking yourself one question: “Why?” Why should your reader care? What will happen if the evil guys win? (Hint: “The good guys will lose” is not a sufficiently compelling answer.) What kind of person is the princess that she’s worth starting a war over? And what personal stake does the hero have in it? Is he in love with the princess, in love with his country, or interested in not being beheaded? Answer those questions, and your book will immediately become more compelling.
Characters but no plot: I get that there are plotters (writers who work from an outline) and pantsers (writers who let the characters lead the story), and I admit that I’m a plotter (at least at the outset – unruly characters can, and do, lead the best-laid plans of plotters astray). But even a pantser must have some eventual ending in mind. So I think the best way to solve this problem is to ask yourself, “Where?” Where are your characters headed? What do they need to learn in order to get there? What challenges will they face along the way? How will the journey change them? When you begin to answer those questions, with any luck, scenes will start popping into your head and you’ll be off.
A variation on this problem, particularly in speculative fiction, is when the world where the story is set begins to become a character. Some writers get quite wrapped up in world-building, and that’s great.
But you have to remember that the world is really the stage for the main action of your story, and there’s a fine line between providing just enough of your world’s backstory and doing an info dump.
“Just enough” lets your reader figure out what’s going on without slowing down the action; an info dump brings the proceedings to a screeching halt. If you feel compelled to share your world-building in its entirety, put it on your website. Your casual readers will thank you.
That should be enough to help you get your book going again. And remember, National Novel Writing Month starts November 1st.
Genre - Urban Fantasy
Rating - PG13
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