Aug 09 2011
1. The author is working on too many projects to finish one. It’s far better to complete one manuscript than to go halfway on two. Most publishers won’t consider an unfinished novel manuscript from an inexperienced author.
2. The author is unwilling and/or unable to set time aside for writing. Alternately, perhaps the author sets aside a regular time, but is not consistent about actually using it. If you put aside one hour per day for writing, you can pretty easily write 1-2 pages. (Actually, I’d like to phrase that more confidently. If you can sit down for an hour and do nothing but write, you WILL write at least 1-2 pages. If you can do 1-2 pages a day, you will have a manuscript drafted within 6 months). If you’re writing at your computer, I’d recommend turning off the Internet because I find it tends to reduce productivity.
3. The author gives up on the manuscript and starts another. Moving on could be a good idea if you’re more likely to finish the next one, but are you? What will be different about this next one? (I know too many authors that switch from one to the next to the next without actually finishing any).
I feel that one of the most common reasons an author will give up on a manuscript is if the main character doesn’t seem to be working. If that’s the issue, you could probably salvage a substantial portion of the story by working in a second point-of-view character (either a new character or an interesting, preexisting one). After you’ve finished the first draft, you can opt to remove the original main character altogether or do some rewriting so that the two perspectives mesh together more coherently. (A caveat: I would not recommend lightly deciding to do 3+ points of view. If you already have two POVs and want to add a third, when you come to the end of the first draft, I’d recommend carefully considering whether one can be removed and/or merged into another).
3.1: When is the best time to give up on a manuscript? If you’re just in the brainstorming phase, I don’t think it costs very much to shelve a premise and try something else. The more time you’ve put into it, the more I would encourage you to try to salvage it rather than toss it out altogether. For example, one possibility is to consider a new main character (as above). You could also consider a different genre. For example, you could probably switch from superhero action to detective/mystery or vice versa–the story will feel radically different even though most of the plot events could remain.
4. The writer constantly rewrites chapters before the first draft is complete. Generally, I’d save major rewriting until you’ve finished the first draft (unless, perhaps, you want to overhaul the plot and it would be really confusing to push forward with what you have). Rewriting before the first draft is complete strikes me as a mostly-hopeless venture because you probably won’t have a very good idea of where the story is going before you get there. (Even if you outline—there’s no way to predict which ways you will adapt and change your outline over the course of writing the book until you actually do).
5. The author sends it out for beta-reviews too early and gets discouraged. Unless you’re desperately stuck, I wouldn’t get reviewers involved before the first draft is complete. Reviews are usually written with the mindset of “How can this be perfected?” and a story early in the development process might have hundreds of issues that could be perfected. Getting a review that points out these issues early in the development process could shake the author by convincing him/her that the story doesn’t have much promise. Please don’t worry about that—when you’re ready to rewrite, you can execute darn near anything better. I’ve seen too many really strong stories start out as sort of crappy drafts to believe that a draft’s crappiness is something to get discouraged about.
Until the first draft is complete, I think “How can this be completed?” is a much more pressing question. Don’t worry about perfection until you have a draft completed. (For one thing, I feel it is nigh-impossible to perfect a piece that hasn’t been drafted. Finishing the draft gives you a scaffolding to build on or ingredients to cook with).
DIFFICULTIES WITH PLOTTING
6. The author loses track of where the story is going and allows that to discourage him/her. Don’t worry about it, just keep writing. It’s okay if your first draft has rough and/or nonsensical transitions, plot elements that are introduced but totally neglected, etc. It’s much easier to deal with those when you have the full draft in front of you. (Then you can examine which plot threads didn’t quite pan out and can be removed, which plot threads should be developed more fully, how to create smooth transitions between your scenes, whether to reorder the scenes, etc).
7. The author writes out of sequence and gets horribly discouraged when the story fragments turn into an incoherent wreck. I’d recommend writing chapter one and then chapter two and then chapter three and only skipping around as a last resort. If your manuscript is giving you anxiety, I think it’ll help a lot to focus on what’s coming next chapter rather than worrying about what could happen 10 or 20 chapters down the line.
Some other twists you can throw in:
- The character’s goals change. A character might “fail” at a goal because he decides that it is no longer worth pursuing. (More commonly, failures are caused by external opposition).
- The character is initially unsuccessful but keeps trying. (For example, the Captain America movie would have been pretty boring if Rodgers had given up after the Army told him no the first five times).
- A problem or obstacle could be self-inflicted. For example, in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, there are external villains (the 7 Evil Exes) but the biggest obstacles to Scott’s relationship with Ramona come from Scott himself, like his irresponsibility and immaturity. (He, ahem, cheats on her with a high-schooler, which is not the best way to win a 24th birthday).
For another style of plotting, please see Organizing Your Story with Cause and Effect.