Why can’t I finish my novel?

You just had a good idea for a plot, and you start writing your story. Yet, at some point… it seems to reach a dead end. Perhaps, you’re not as passionate about it as you were before.

Why does that happen? Wasn’t your idea good enough? What are you missing?

I’m stuck

It often has nothing to do with the story. You still are passionate about it, but procrastination wins you. You’ll continue tomorrow. You find a lot of things to do, a lot of excuses. When you go back, if you ever do, those lines don’t make much sense anymore.

Despite its importance and how it impacts your writing, it is not about procrastination that we’ll talk about in this post. Instead, it is about to get stuck. Sometimes a tiny mistake prevents us from continuing. A page, a line, or even a word that doesn’t feel right…

This may happen because you didn’t plan the novel or, instead, you planned too much and killed that flame inside you. As a result, you miss the passion and intensity of discovering your own story as you’re writing. So, maybe, your issue is to know which one works better for you. It is time to find out.

Two main issues

There are usually two situations responsible for this feeling of getting stuck. They are the usual suspects when you can’t finish your story.

Revision

Revising your text is hell sometimes. It will never be exciting, but you don’t need to make it harder than it should be. It is not supposed to destroy your story. If you’re feeling that, then stop what you’re doing! Something is wrong.

It can be the story, of course, it may have flaws, but probably you’re just being too much! Stop, take a deep breath, and start over. Then, perhaps, ask someone to read it and give an opinion. A fellow writer would be a good choice.

Now, to make sure that you’re doing it right, ask yourself: is the story getting better? Yes? Great! Then, the whole revision process, as tiring as it is, will, in the end, fulfill you with a sense of accomplishment.

One last piece of advice on this: don’t try to revise before finishing the story. That’s usually a bad idea. However, if you really feel the need to do it, then follow this simple rule: if it is to improve a point in the story, then do it. On the other hand, if it is only in your way, keeping you from writing the rest of the story, stop yourself and keep writing.

Planning

Some authors plan their stories as they go, while others are careful planners. The last ones take a long time to decide on every detail before they start writing. Both methods are correct, but you can’t use both. At least, not at the same time.

You need to know what kind of writer you are. If you’re a planner, you’ll get stuck with no plan. If you’re not, planning will be boring, and you’ll feel like losing time. Eventually, you’ll lose all interest in your story.

There is no right and wrong; it is a matter of preference. Find out how you work better. Try both if you don’t know yet, maybe with a short story first, so you don’t lose so much time.

Old Writing

Many of us have a lot of old writing lying around. Journal entries, ideas with no context, scenes without a story, story beginnings, and so many other pieces of writing. Something that made sense to us at the time but was left aside.

Does this mean you were stuck? What to do with it? It depends! You can do nothing. If they stopped making sense, why do you have to do anything about it?

If there is an idea that still makes sense and you want to, then pick it up, read it and start writing again. You can start where you stopped. You can rewrite everything, change some things… It is up to you. Your creativity is endless! Besides, even if you end up with nothing, it is worth it. Experience and practice is the only way to improve your writing.

How to overcome?

What drives you is motivation. It is what makes you start a story, and the lack of it makes you stop writing. Take a moment to remember your motivation. What led you to write that story in the first place? Why did you want to write it?

The best way to overcome your procrastination or lack of motivation is to move on. There is something at that point that you don’t like, it is okay; keep writing. Later you can go back and find a better solution. If there isn’t a significant hole in the plot, it won’t be a problem.

Keep in mind: writing should be fun. If it’s not, then stop and find out why.

Less Pressure, Better Writing – my personal experience

“Less Pressure, Better Writing.” Sounds obvious, right? But who among us can say that you practice what you preach? Not many, I’m sure.

When you’re trying to be a writer (or any other profession for what matters), you put additional pressure on your shoulders. Besides the obvious one that you have to provide for yourself and your family. The bills can’t wait for you to be a renamed author, and you start to feel ‘the pressure of real life’. The anxiety grows inside you while the blank page in front of you… remains blank.

Today, I’m not giving you any advice, nor trying to tell you what you should do or how to deal with any problems. Instead, I just want to share a bit of my own recent story.

Keep trying

I am one of the few fortunate people who have someone by my side, always motivating me. Motivates me to believe in myself and fight as much as possible to get what I want. So, one day I quit my job and came home to write. All-day.

The first months were amazingly productive. So many things in my head to put down on paper! But that feeling of accomplishment slowly vanished. Other problems became more relevant – and an obstacle to writing. Writing is not a very well-paid job (if it is paid at all), and small children (I have one of those) don’t give us much time either. So, a decision had to be made.

I wasn’t sure of what I should do. I definitively needed to find a job, but when would I write? With a full-time job and my baby girl and all other responsibilities in life I couldn’t ignore, I would be forced to give up. Or so I believed.

Made it a pleasure, not a job

Then I was confronted with a sweet reality. Do not have the obligation of writing made me more relaxed regarding it. That allowed me to write more than I thought. Those 5 minutes between finishing my job and picking my baby at school are somehow more productive than an entire hour sitting in front of the PC with the single purpose of writing.

I don’t force myself to write and still write every day. This might not be the path to be a successful writer, but it brought back to me the true joy of writing. In my case, that’s what I needed.

Just be… a writer

As I said at the beginning of this post, I’m not trying to give you any advice or tell you how to behave. I wanted to share this to let you know that there is hope.

I now have a job as a writer (content marketing writing) that I love, aside from having my own projects. I’m a writer not because of my job but because I write, regardless the results of my writing. Things are not always perfect, but feeling good… is priceless.

Description – what to do and what to avoid

The description is an essential part of your story. It will allow your reader to visualize your scenes and your characters. You can make them smell and feel whatever you want them to. But, most importantly, a good description enriches your novel.

However, sometimes, it can backfire and make your story… boring. Who never read a book where you have pages and pages describing a few objects? They are boring, and no one cares about so many details. An example I like to give is a Portuguese writer, a classic and significant one we all study in high school: Eça de Queiroz. He took around ten pages to describe… a door! Yes, now, you can imagine how happy all Portuguese teenagers are about reading his work, right?

Now, you definitely want to provide your readers with a good description. Yet, you can’t bore them. So, here you have a few essential tips for doing it right.

Include it within your story

Lots of descriptive sentences, separated from the scene you’re telling, will become incredibly dull. Imagine stopping the action and start describing the chair where the character sat down. Is it something you would like to read?

I’m not telling you that you shouldn’t describe the chair. I’m only stating that you should try to mix the description into the action. Describe one or two characteristics while you keep telling what’s happening. For example, your character sits on… give a general characteristic of the chair to describe it. Next, imagine your character looks down. He could notice something, a detail you want your readers to know about.

This way, they will visualize it quickly, and they won’t even notice!

Keep it simple

Many pretentious words, as if it is some kind of decoration for your story, will not work near the readers. They want to visualize what you’re describing, so you don’t want to put an extra intellectual effort into them.

Keep it simple and appeal to their imagination. But remember, simple doesn’t mean generic. Otherwise, your story will look too shallow.

Daydream!

Don’t force a description on paper, only because it’s needed. Don’t start by writing the biggest number possible of beautiful, meaningless words, trying to build something from them. First, imagine the local where your scene is taking place. Visualize it in your head without criticism. Then try to put it on paper, the best you can!

Imagination

Reading appeals to your imagination and experiences. Your readers will visualize your scenes according to their experience. Therefore, it is useless to describe an object meticulously, beyond extremely boring.

Provide your readers some clues on how things and people look like between the action. Let them use their imagination and finding out how a character, an object, or a place looks like at their own pace.

Revising: is it not done yet?

After the most intensive – and exciting – creative work, other steps follow. Unfortunately, for most writers, they aren’t that fun.

Revising is a significant one, and many times it becomes harder than it has to be. Why? Due to the lack of organization.

Planning from day 1

After months (sometimes years) of hard writing work, many writers end up with a messy first draft. This happens because of the lack of planning. For many authors, the creative flow is too important, so they write freely without much care. This is one way of doing it, but it will make it much harder to revise your work later.

If you plan the story, it will be a lot much easier to work on it. Then, you go through all the plans you made again. Check for inconsistencies or whatever you don’t like and want to change.

There is still time

If you are in the middle of the writing process and don’t have a plan, you must take a step back and create one now. Sounds strange? Well, I can guarantee you that it will really help you out.

Start by writing down the structure of your novel in a simple global way to access it quickly. Then, step by step, add more details until you have a general vision of your book. Once you have it, you’ll catch the first ‘mistakes’ or things you don’t like that much.

After you have an idea of what needs to be changed, make a copy of your draft (so you can go back if you want) and start working on this second copy.

Repeat the whole process until you’re totally satisfied with your novel. No matter if that means doing this 2 times or 20! Try to enjoy the process, and it will be easier than you think.

Making your life easier

Writing, revising, editing – it is hard work. But, as a writer, you can’t always afford to lose time, so good planning is vital to improve your process.

You can easily get lost among the 300 or 500 pages of your novel. An obvious structure with the most significant happenings of the story organized is of great help to ease your work.

Without good revising, you have a draft, not a novel.

Three-Act Story: is it too rigid for me?

Many authors work with a 3-act story structure when writing a novel. It’s a formula, like any other. Yet, some authors find it a bit too rigid. They believe it can eventually break the creative wave.

Each author should find what works best for them, and for that, you need to know the formula and its implications.

What’s the 3-act story?

The 3-act story is a somewhat rigid structure, which you may find a bit restrictive. From the moment you decide to work with it, you can’t deviate much. It has some predictability and, as many authors work with it, your readers expect a few “rules”. If you avoid them, they’ll feel like something is wrong with your story.

Therefore, you have 3 acts to work with, and each of them must have a disaster. The first act is around 25% of the book, and it ends with a first disaster. The second one is the biggest, approximately 50% of your novel. At the end of the first half of this act, you have a new disaster. It must cause your character the need to evaluate its choices. The final act is about the final confrontation – 3rd disaster. It will end with the victory or defeat of your character (or a bit of both sometimes).

The disasters

After reading the previous paragraphs, you might be thinking, “Wait, a novel can have more than three disasters.” Well, that’s true, but the ones we’re referring to here are special and have precise rules.

Each one of the disasters must be thought of and executed very carefully. They must mark a psychological turning point for your character. They must have the kind of impact that might change everything.

Create some empathy, and make them stay

Each one of these disasters has a goal, and you can’t forget it. The goal is to make the reader care about the character. That’s why it is so important, especially initially, to create some empathy with the readers.

Take time to build a character that they will care about. This way, they will be concerned about each disaster and… will keep reading!

How to keep the interest in your readers

A writer’s biggest desire is for their readers to keep reading the story until the very last page. The scariest thing? Readers losing interest somewhere in the middle of it.

What can you do to make your readers come back to your story after they put the book down for some reason? How do you keep them interested?

Keep the interest

The most common advice is to use cliffhangers.

A cliffhanger is a way to end your scene, where your character, usually the protagonist, is facing some sort of life or death situation. Something really dramatic. Is that good? Sure, especially if you are writing an action-adventure novel. In that case, it is perfect. Yet…

If it’s not the case, you may need to rethink that option.

They need to care

A good story touches the readers. They care about the characters and what happens to them. This is your main concern: to make them care.

The most important thing to make your readers care is the character itself . Bring them to life; your characters need goals, a life story, a personality!

After you build the right character, you can end the scene with it in trouble. There are also rules here. You must think of the right kind of trouble – the one that makes the reader somehow worry about the character. You need them eager to know how the character will get rid of the issue.

No one cares if the laziest guy in the office is fired. However, if it’s someone who really makes an effort, or desperately needs their income, it’s more likely that your readers will turn the page to see what happens next. If you want to apply this idea to the villain, it is also possible. Imagine the lazy guy being promoted. Your readers will probably be furious and want to see how far he can go with it.

The character in question doesn’t need to be the protagonist. There are more characters in your book, and their depth is also a good quality mark for your readers. A perfect protagonist surrounded by a bunch of flat characters doesn’t make a good story.

Another way of keeping the interest is to end a scene with your point-of-view character making a decision that might go very badly. He’s facing a difficult situation and decides to take a risk. It has everything to go wrong but still… If it works, it will change your character’s life totally. That’s something your reader will want to know how it ends.

You are also a reader

I can’t get enough of this advice. I don’t know a single author that isn’t also an avid reader. It is crucial to learn and to understand what works.

In the end, the most important is the reader. So, if you still have any doubts about your choices, just put yourself into their shoes. What makes you turn the page?

The Villain: 4 tips for a memorable villain

The villain is a character of great importance in any story. For that reason, you must think about him carefully.

Your villain has to be credible to be memorable. As such, you should spend some time developing your villain before start writing the actual story.

Here you have some tips that might help you.

1. Motivation

Everyone has a goal, something they want, and that must apply to your villain as well.

Every action they will take has to help them, in some way, to get closer to that goal. At least, that is what the villain believes. It doesn’t need to be immediately evident to your reader, especially if you’re writing a mystery novel. Yet, keep in mind that, at some point, the villain’s choices need to make sense to those reading your story.

2. Justify their actions

Real people don’t think of themselves as villains. Our actions always make sense in our minds, and we have good reasons to act the way we do.

Remember that every time your villain takes a decision or chooses a course of action. Your villain has a purpose with every step he (or she) takes.

3. Personality

A plain character is not exciting or fun to read. With a plain villain, we can kill the story in the first few pages.

Your villain needs a life, people that make part of it, fears and hobbies, things they like and others they hate. Villains must be more than the evil goal they have in mind.

Besides, in real life, no one is entirely evil. A couple of positive qualities will enrich your character. It will make it more credible and interesting to your readers.

4. Avoid clichés

The erratic mad man might be fun to write, even read sometimes, but people are beginning to get tired of it. Surprise your readers and remember: if you want them to fear your villain, make it the most unexpected character of your story.

Unexpected

The best villain is the one with a background story, a life, a reason to be evil. Maybe the villain is not exactly a bad person; perhaps he is just hurt.

Think of your villain as a person with a story, feelings, fears, and goals. He is not his actions. The most humanized the villains are, the more realistic they become. Your readers will appreciate that.

Should I give up my story?

I don’t know a single author who hadn’t abandon a project (even if it was just for a while) and asked himself, “Does my book worth it?”.

A novel is a very long, demanding project that will keep you busy for a long time. Sometimes, you find yourself at a dead-end. You realize that it wasn’t such a good project as you had thought, and that can be devastating.

Does it have everything a story needs?

This happens for different reasons. The most common is that you had lots of ideas, full written scenes in your head, but you’re trying to squeeze them into a story that doesn’t exist. A bunch of scenes, no matter how great they are, isn’t a story.

You don’t have a well-written plot with a strong conflict. Your characters aren’t developed enough – they don’t have a specific goal, their personality is a mystery, or you don’t know how they look like.

Sometimes, you had a good plan, and everything was going well. Then, you feel gradually less excited about the project and start to see its flaws.

Take it or leave it

As enraging as it can be (desperation is also possible), it is a perfectly normal process. Now, before you give up on everything, let’s stop and think about it.

If you already sold the story, you have to keep working on it, whether you like it or not. If not, you can stop for a bit and ask yourself some questions.

Many times, our emotions get in the way of pragmatism. That’s great for our characters, but it can harm our work. That’s why you need to ask yourself the following questions and think about them one at a time:

Do I really like this story?

Am I just tired?

Is the story that bad that it can’t be fixed?

Do I know how to fix it?

If it is that bad, you can drop it or put it aside. You can always come back to it later with fresh eyes and a new perspective. You may, in the future, find the solution you can’t see now.

If you don’t know how to fix it, you can ask for help. And if you’re simply not sure about what’s going on, you can also ask for help!

Give up is (not) an option

To become a good writer, you need to write! A lot! Not all your stories will be masterpieces, and that’s okay.

Think about your “not so good” works as training wheels. Finding solutions for them may not make them great, but it will definitely impact your next work.

Analyze all the pros and cons of keep working on that story and make sure of what you truly want. Remember: you can always change your mind.

Chapters: are they too big? or too short?

It’s quite common when writing a novel to realize that your chapters have very different sizes. You may wonder: is this okay? Is there some standard length for a chapter? Not at all.

Chapters are actually not as important as they might seem in the finished book. They are huge bags where you put some scenes, so the reader can give himself small goals while reading your book. The scenes are the important ones, the basis of everything.

They are part of the planning

I didn’t know that in my first novel. I sat down and wrote, whatever came to my mind. Beautiful words, disorganized scenes, a crappy publisher, and we had a novel. Zero planning. Disappointing final work.

I worked a lot after that. I knew I could do better, and my second novel was planned to exhaustion. To organize the chapters, I tried to fit in each of them the same number of scenes. I also tried that all the scenes had a similar number of words. It didn’t work that well. I mean, the result was quite better than the first one, but it takes out some of the spontaneity I need when I’m writing. That made some scenes sound a bit artificial.

Like me, you need to find your own way. You can go mathematically, planning a book with x chapters, with y scenes in each one, or try to write more freely. Any place between these two extremes is good. Whatever you choose is good if it works for you and your story. The length of a chapter isn’t as important as the quality of your scenes.

As a reader, however, I find a very long chapter tiring. Yet, there are exceptions. Sometimes, you can read 100 pages in a row without realizing it. It happens when the story was too exciting and the writing so good, you just couldn’t stop.

When to end the chapter?

Choosing the right moment to end the chapter can be tricky. You can make your job easier by dividing it into scenes. I like to end it in moments of suspense and curiosity. They help to make the reader turn the page and (hopefully) read one more chapter.

Generally, you want to end with a big happening that leads your reader to ask, “what is he going to do?”. It can be something like a brief description of a sound or smell the character noticed. Something interesting enough to make the reader wonder what was that. Sometimes, it’s enough to describe what the character is feeling. For example, “He looked at the open door and felt out of breath.” without explaining the motive.

All of those could be great ways of ending a chapter. They lead people to keep reading to know what was happening.

Sometimes, the chapter ends with a mystery that has been in the story for too long. Perhaps an answer your reader was seeking since the beginning. That can work too, depending on the story.

Imagine that you are the reader. You finally got that answer you’re searching for since chapter 1. You look at the book, and there is still half a book to read. What would you think of it? Could you trust this answer to be the truth? Would you keep reading?

Keep it interesting

I don’t know a single writer that isn’t an avid reader as well. You know, as a reader, what keeps you going and what makes a book boring. Look at your story. Would you read it? If you’re not sure now, put your story aside and read it later, tomorrow or next week. This will give you some emotional distance, allowing you to be less partial about it.

A boring book doesn’t sell. People have way too many ways to distract themselves rather than invest their time in something that is not entertaining enough – assuming you’re writing fiction. If it’s not the case and you’re writing non-fiction, keep in mind that no one likes to feel bored anyway. My advice is for you to study your audience carefully.

The good thing about writing is that there are no rigid rules, only guidelines and lots of creativity.

Books for Children: a writing challenge, with very specific rules

Would you like to write a children’s book? Most writers have their own favorite genre, and that reveals in their stories. Yet, sometimes, you want to do something different.

Writing for adults and children are two distinct things and demand different skills.

When you think about children’s books, you probably picture beautiful drawings, full of color and sweet characters. It may scare you right away, but you need to remember that you’re the writer, not the illustrator.

Planning a children’s book

Now that we are clear about the pictures let’s talk about the actual writing. You might think that it is hard, that you have a lot of competition, which is true. There are thousands of people writing cute little stories and trying their luck with the publishers. So, how can your work stand out from the others? Knowing the structure and avoiding the most usual mistakes.

Make it short

When writing a children’s book, like in any other genre, you need to be aware of its structure and respect it. In this case, there is a very specific one – a very short story (around 550 words, never more than 1000), 32 pages, 24 to 28 of the actual story, with a couple of sentences per page.

Sounds easy now? Not quite. You still need to be very careful with some points. Let’s begin with the story itself. Your small readers are very demanding and specific in what they like (and the publishers know that). Your story must have a clear beginning, middle, and end.

Characters

The characters are very important too. Don’t think that children are easier to content.

They spot all the inconsistencies and don’t let it go. To be good, a character has to be strong and, to some point, realistic. Do you want to write about a flying tiger? Think about how the fact that the tiger can fly would impact other parts of his life. The kids will do it.

Illustrations

As I mentioned before, you need to focus on writing. Write a good short story, with good characters.

The publisher will probably want to hire the illustrator. So, unless you’re a very talented artist, avoid sending the illustrations with the story. Best case scenario, you’ll talk about that later. Yet, while writing, keep in mind that each page will have an illustration. The text should be easy to illustrate.

Look around

Writing a beautiful story for children can seem easy, as soon as you know all the rules, but that’s not quite true.

If you want to be a children’s author, you must follow the market development. Have you read one of these books lately? I’m sure they are very different from the ones from your own childhood. Children’s books changed a lot in the last few decades, and you need to be aware of these changes to be an author.

Face your challenge professionally. Research and find the market rules and tendencies. Children are a very difficult audience, and publishers know that. You need to stand out.

This blog serves the purpose of helping all of those who likes to write to get technical information as well as, having a safe harbor to discuss ideas.

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