Tuesday, December 17, 2013

When Your Novel’s Going Nowhere by Gail Gaymer Martin

When my mom died, I was facing three book deadlines, so despite my grief, I plugged away and got the first book finished. A few weeks later, the book came back from my editor with a few revisions she’d marked with sticky-notes. I couldn’t believe what I’d done. Every scene involved eating: pizza, ham and cheese sandwiches, cookies, lemonade, coffee, ice cream, popcorn, and elegant dinners. Food is comfort, and I must have used the idea of food to comfort myself in my grief. I made the changes, and it ended up a successful novel. But I also learned a lesson, and I’ll share it with you here. Sometimes our amazing prose needs fresh eyes, time, and lots of perseverance.

Even under regular circumstances, authors sometimes look over the pages of their novel and realize something happened to their inspiration. The book seems to be going nowhere. It’s lost its punch and seems to be mundane. While some of it is great, you’ve found portions that are lackluster. Instead of giving up, take steps to rev the motor and add zip to the stalled novel.

Take A Break
If you’ve been working on the story for weeks, even months, your mind is saturated with the plot and the characters. Set the manuscript aside. Take a vacation. Work on a new project. The important action is to stop thinking about the story and characters. Allow your mind to move in other directions. Sometimes stepping away from a project and returning a later will give you a fresh perspective. In the lapse you can identify where the novel is weak. Do you need more action? More hooks? Deeper characterization? Is the dialogue dull? Use colored highlights or symbols in the margin to indicate where and what you need to add, change, or cut. Once through the manuscript, you will have a better idea what’s needed and how you can get the novel back in the race.

Try Fresh Eyes Besides Yours
Another new perspective is finding an avid reader who loves your genre Instead of a critique, ask your friend, acquaintance or family member to read the story and make notes in the margin where the story drags, when they don’t care about the characters, when they feel no concern or emotion, when they long for the good part. These notes from fresh eyes can be invaluable to provide ideas on how to make it sparkle.

Scrutinize The Story
Authors are inspired by a story idea. The plot forms around the purpose for writing the book—to show how trust is a must in any relationship, to show that happiness is internal and not external, or demonstrate the strength of a mother or father’s love. Novels come with a purpose, a message, a lesson, a truth. Review your novel by scenes and ask if the scene moves the story forward toward its purpose and the character’s goal.

Search for Weaknesses
Most authors know what techniques or elements of fiction are their weakest. If dialogue is a problem, dissect the conversations between characters and cut the go-nowhere verbiage. Unimportant dialogue doesn’t move the plot forward. If descriptions are a weakness, make sure scenes come to life in a vivid surrounding by meaningful description through character action or introspection. She set the teacup on the saucer, kicking herself for agreeing to meet Milly in a stupid teashop. You know where the scene is set and character’s attitude.

These are only a few of the techniques you can use to improve your novel, and remember though everyone loves food, you can’t build a plot around it. 

Multi-award-winning novelist, Gail Gaymer Martin is the author of contemporary romance, romantic suspense, and women’s fiction with 52 contracted novels and over 3-1/2 million books in print. Her novels have received several national awards, including: the ACFW Carol Award and RT Reviewer’s Choice Award. CBS local news listed Gail as one of the four best writers in the Detroit area. Gail is the author of Writer Digest’s Writing the Christian Romance. She is a cofounder of American Christian Fiction Writers and serves on their Executive Board. Gail is a member of Advanced Speakers and Writers (ACFW) as well as Christian Authors Network (CAN) and is a keynote speaker at churches, civic and business organizations and is a workshop presenter at conferences across the U.S. Gail lives in Michigan with her husband.. Visit her at:

Website at www.gailgaymermartin.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/gail.g.martin.3
Twitter: http://twitter.com/GailGMartin
GoodReads: www.goodreads.com/author/show/83354.Gail_Gaymer_Martin

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  1. Great list, Gail! Like Diane, I've never really considered how what's going on in my personal life bleeds through into my writing. Thanks for pointing that out. What an incredibly painful time that must have been for you.

  2. Diane Dean White shared, "Gail is so giving with her advice, and I enjoy her writing. As much as it pains me to see anyone unhappy in a tea room, :) I appreciate her illustration and knowledge. Makes me want to go back and reread my food scenes. I'd never thought about how life experiences might make its way into our writing, but I can see how grief would take over. Gail's top notch, and it makes me proud to have her as a Facebook friend and fellow Michigander."

    Diane, I'm sorry. I published this comment earlier, but Blogger ate it apparently.

  3. Thank you so much, Gail, for this post. I read it when you sent it in, but I really needed to read it again this morning. You described my book perfectly: parts are great but others seem mundane. Love the part about taking a break from your characters.

    It came at just the right time. Thank you!

  4. Though it's hard to do, I like the idea of taking a break to let my mind relax. It's amazing the ideas that come out of the blue. Thanks, Gail.

  5. As usual, your posts are full of great advice, Gail. Thanks!

  6. My mom died a month ago today and I was in the middle of editing. I haven't been able to focus again yet, but that's ok. I am giving myself a break.

    1. Oh, Erika! My deepest sympathy! I'm so sorry. Yes, it is okay. I'll be praying for your comfort and strength. Please do give yourself a break.

  7. Hi Gail, great post. I realized a while ago that I needed a break from a particular genre.. .we will see how 2014 goes and what windows the Lord might open. I want to dig into your story the first chance I get...I'm married to a fireman and yowza, how romantic are those guys! Merry Christmas.

  8. Gail, I can understand that. The only time I've had trouble writing was in the midst of some emotional trial. Hugs, Lyn

  9. Gail, now that you mentioned it I can see our lives bleeding into a characters. Great list you provided and I love that you said it is ok to take a break!

  10. Hi everyone. Thanks so much for your lovely comments to me, and even more I'm so pleased that what I said made an impact on your and your work. When we write, we write our hearts on paper, even though we cover them with characters and plot, we spill out onto the page. But sometimes that's what makeks great writing. I've found some of my most touching novels have been ones that came from the depth of my emotion, recalling another incident or event in my life but bringing those feelings back to life through a character. That's what touches readers -- real life emotions. So nice to hear from you and I'll be back for another visit in January. Wishing you all a blessed Christmas and a new year filled with good things.


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