You might find yourself with this dilemma: you are on your third or fourth draft of your novel and it’s not working. Rapidly losing enthusiasm for the work-in-progress, you search your brain to figure out what is wrong. You don’t want to throw away months or years of effort, but you cannot figure out what is wrong. As the IT folks like to say, “When in doubt, reboot.”
How do you reboot a novel? There’s no on/off switch on a manuscript, but you can turn off the writer switch and shift to the reader switch. Read the manuscript straight through without any distractions. Do it in one pass if time permits. Take precise notes on what is wrong with the manuscript. During this self-assessment stage, you must be brutally candid about the flaws in your work.
In my experience with my work here are some of the flaws I’ve identified:
• Lack of high-impact resolution to the story.
• Word count that is too long (125,000-plus) or too short (50,000).
• Lack of cohesion in the story; too many detours or low-impact scenes.
• Weak character development.
These types of flaws can be fixed. What is more difficult to fix is the problem of bad story structure. Like a house, if a story is structurally unsound it cannot stand.
Once you have finished a frank assessment of your story, ask yourself this question: what is this story really about? We’re not talking about the theme here, but what is the essence of the story. Is Harry Potter a story about a powerful wizard or is it about an adolescent boy’s struggles growing up in a world where he is different and must learn to use his assets to make sure good triumphs over evil? When you figure out what your story is about, writing it and filling in the blanks will become easier.
Ask yourself these questions:
• How can I make the story concept (what the story is about) pay off?
• What are the main character’s external and internal conflicts and how can I best maximize them?
• What are the weakest aspects or scenes of the story? Can they be improved or should they be deleted?
• Which characters don’t work? Are they worth saving?
Rebooting a novel is hard work. It could entail tearing the story apart and piecing it back together again. You may decide it’s not worth the effort. If you decide to go for it, go for it and reboot your novel.