Tuesday, October 15, 2013

No E-Z Pass for Novelists... But There Are Ways to Lessen the Toll

by Saralee Rosenberg

A novel is written in drafts for a good reason. The long, scenic drive, aka the writing journey, allows the author lots of time to tell themselves (and anyone who will listen):
  • This is total crap.
  • The story is going nowhere.
  • The dialogue is lame.
  • Nobody will read this.
  • I don't even know what I'm saying anymore
  • I thought it was going to be a thriller but now it's a comedy
  • If  I schedule my knee surgery I won't be able to write for weeks. Months?

If you are navigating your way through pages and pages of story in the hopes of miraculously running into a novel, sorry- EZ Pass is not accepted. However, you can and should pull over every few chapters to determine if your WIP (work in progress) is headed in the right direction.

Of course you can reach out to other writers you respect to ask their opinion (and you should) but not before checking out these road signs. 

1.    CAUTION! Is the main character keeping you up at night or instead, do they bore you? If they are evolving but not necessarily scaring the crap out of you, consider these possible culprits:

·       Their inner and/or outer conflicts are still being kept top secret
·      They lack distinction and need a personality makeover
·       They are being overshadowed by a minor character who is getting the best lines
·       They are not multi-dimensional enough. Focus on their flaws and their elusive dreams to fill them like an overstuffed sandwich. Be generous with details!

2.     STOP SPEEDING! When you re-read a chapter do you blow past any paragraphs or pages? That could be a sign of a weak structure and pacing. Ask yourself:

·      Is there too much tell and not enough show?
·      Are you trying to space out your big reveals, leaving big gaps in between? Escalating drama is something that cannot wait. Every chapter should contain mystery and intrigue
·       Are you getting lost in back story and/or interior thought? Yes, there are things you want the reader to know but share that in dramatic scenes that unfold in real time.

YAWN ALERT: If you are bored by so much as a sentence, imagine the reader’s response. In other words, if you skip a few paragraphs of dense description, likely so will they.

3.     YIELD! Are you conflicted about which way to go?

·       Do any of the characters seemed to have had lobotomies since they last appeared? In other words, are they speaking and/or behaving in ways that are very different from when they were originally introduced?
·       Are the characters’ ages, occupations, physical traits, conflicts also consistent? For example, if your single, blonde protagonist suddenly has red hair and a fiancĂ©e, somewhere you took a wrong turn.
·       Are you pulling the thread through so that the plot lines you developed in the first few chapters are still an integral part of the story? Or have you abandoned them, leaving the readers wondering?


·       You don't want the story to flatline so be sure that the narrative offers an ongoing stream of inciting incidents and reveals. Don't be stingy. Share! 
·       Have you foreshadowed possible events or character introductions?
·       Are you ending the chapters with dramatic cliffhangers?

5.     SPEAK UP!

·       Readers almost never skip dialogue so make sure yours is snappy and serves a purpose.
·       Be sure that your characters distinguish themselves through their spoken words. Give them unique speech patterns, expressions and mannerisms that are identifiable to them
·       Cut off dialogue mid-sentence. Aren’t people always interrupting you?
·       Does the dialogue ramble like an annoying Aunt? Chop, chop, chop.
·       Any SAT words? Ditch the thesaurus and write as you speak.

TECHNOLOGY ALERT: If your story takes place at any point since cell phones, texting and the Internet were introduced, then character interaction should reflect our digitized habits.

In most cases you can detect the fatal flaws of your manuscript after you have returned to the material with fresh eyes and a tall latte. But in the event that you really can't tell if your WIP is super charged, there is one sure fire test…

Put the manuscript away for a few days to see if you are thinking about your characters and their conflicts. Are you getting fresh ideas? Do you wonder how they’re managing without you? Or do you not think about them much at all?

If your characters are not on your radar it is possible that you’ve taken a wrong turn or several wrong turns.So try these:

·       Review your character bios to see if you’ve left out any compelling facts
·       Interview your main characters to probe what they’re hiding because if they are worthy, they are always hiding something
·       Be honest. Are you still in love? If yes, revise, rewrite, rethink, reconsider… but don’t get out of the car.

Saralee Rosenberg is the author of A LITTLE HELP FROM ABOVE, CLAIRE VOYANT, FATE AND MS. FORTUNE (all from Avon/HarperCollins). Her WIP, her debut for middle grade readers, is THE MIDDLE SCHOOL MEDIUM.  Visit her site: www.saraleerosenberg.com


  1. I relate to every word of this! Fantastic blog, Saralee!! xx

  2. This was awesome! Clear and right on. And funny. Thanks!

  3. I'm wildly late, Saralee, but I just did get a chance to read your post. I've been away from my new ms for over a week, and your blog post has given me some good check points for getting back into it! Thanks!