Tag Archives: planning

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.

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.

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.

Organizing your ideas – Scenes

Random ideas are a fantastic way of training your creative ability, but they are not a story. You must organize them. How? Into scenes.

It’s a prevalent problem for beginners to organize their ideas into scenes. What is, indeed, a scene? Where does it end? How can I make it enjoyable?

I had been there myself, and after a lot of research, I found the better answers in Randy Ingermanson’s blog (I’ll give you some links at the end of the post). He taught me something that I already was able to prove to myself: even a weak plot can be an interesting book if you have good scenes.

Scene’s characteristics

The scene is the tiniest piece of your novel – such as a musical note within a song. It occurs in a delimited space of time in the story (minutes or hours usually).

One of the major problems for young writers is the length of it. Well, some writers put an average word limit, such as Randy himself. I don’t, but if the scene is getting too big, then something is definitely off.

A scene focuses on one character of your book, but not necessarily the main one. It has to have a clear beginning and end.

Types of Scenes

Something surprised me about Randy’s posts, and it can be quite frustrating, I must admit. It is the fact that after you read this, you’ll notice that many of your scenes weren’t scenes at all. Confusing?

Randy divides the scenes into two types: proactive and reactive. A proactive scene has the sequence: goal, conflict, setback. The reactive scene is about reaction, dilemma, and decision. And that’s it.

I could try to explain each one of them, but I believe that nothing better than his own words to explain this.

Proactive Scene

“When you start writing a proactive scene, do it at the point in your story when it’s natural to establish the focal character’s goal for that scene. Quickly establish that goal, and then spend most of the scene working through the conflict of the scene. Eventually, you’ll hit a critical point. This is usually a setback (in which the focal character fails to achieve her goal and is now worse off than before.) Occasionally, it will be a victory (in which the focal character achieves her goal and is now better off than before). Once you’ve hit that critical point, the scene is over. Start a new scene.”

Reactive Scene

“When you start writing a reactive scene, it should normally follow closely on the heels of a setback in a proactive scene. The point of a reactive scene is to give the focal character a chance to react emotively to the hit she’s just taken and to switch directions. Start out with that emotive reaction and let it run its course (usually a few paragraphs or a page at most). Then take your character into a dilemma—what to do next. There should be no good options. If there is a good option, it’s not a dilemma. The dilemma may take quite a while to work through. The focal character has only bad options. Explore these and reject them, one by one, until there is only one acceptable course of action. That’s your focal character’s decision and the reactive scene is now over. Start a new scene.”

Towards Perfection

Scenes are probably the most critical part of your book. They are responsible for your readers to keep reading. They need to catch attention and keep the interest in your story and your characters.

Good scenes make a mediocre plot shine. Bad scenes ruin the most perfect novel.

To read more about the topic, visit Randy Ingermanson’s blog on the links below.

Writing the perfect scene

How do you know when to start and end a scene?

Procrastination: some tips to keep you motivated in your writing task

Procrastination is a common problem in any area. Many of us have to fight hard to find ways of motivating ourselves to finish what we start. It can be a tough task, right?

You may feel frustrated every time you hear, “Well, you love it. If it is your dream, why don’t you do it?” The answer is quite obvious: because of life! Life happens. Things get in the way, and at the end of the day, you feel exhausted.

As a writer, especially if you have another job (which most of us are forced to, unfortunately), this is especially true. However, with the right mindset and dedication, it’s possible to overcome procrastination. How? I have some tips to help you.

Commitment

First of all, commitment. The truth is: how many times do you get up in the morning, and the last thing you wanted was to go to work? But you go anyway! You must do the same thing with writing.

You may be tired or not in the mood. Go for it anyway. Don’t wait for inspiration, sit, and write something. If you want to be a writer than writing is your job.

Less is More

New ideas are exciting, and they make us want to follow them immediately. It’s a trap. Take notes of all the new ideas you have in a different document or a notebook, and stick to your job. Having too many projects at the same time will end in no finished projects.

Plan

An outline will help you to avoid a moment when you don’t know what to write. Check the post Planning: a story is more than an idea to know more.

Goal

Keep your goal in mind, even in those moments when you don’t want to write. The path is hard, but remember, finishing the book is, by itself, a tremendous success.

Some authors are focused on what comes next and get scared with all the problems with publishing and marketing. Just try to ignore that for now. Focus on one step at a time. Allow yourself to feel the satisfaction of finishing your project, and then you worry about the rest.

Training

It is, indeed, a matter of training. Human beings can do amazing things, but they have to train for it. It’s the same with writing.

Force yourself at writing a minimum every day (might be in minutes, or the number of words, as you prefer), and in no time, it will be part of a routine, and it will become easier.

I don’t have the time!

The lack of time is probably the most common problem for any writer. It’s challenging to find a break in your schedule, but with some planning, you can do it.

Let’s try something for a week. You write down everything you do during the day, and the time you spend on each thing. Mainly focus on those things you do every day. Then find holes, find things that you can cut out, or at least, spend less time with them. Even 10 minutes, it’s better than nothing.

Try to use that time you got for a couple of days. If it works, perfect! Doesn’t it? Try again. If writing is that important to you, you’ll find a window in your schedule. It’s a matter of priorities.

Always remember: “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” (Richard Bach). So, don’t wait for the perfect moment or idea, just go for it.

Planning: a story is more than an idea

When you start to think about a story, what you usually have are some episodic ideas. Despite their quality, those ideas are not a story, even less a novel. Those need a plot and a structure.

I’m not saying that your ideas are not necessary. Every time you have an idea, you should take note of it with all the details, situations, and pieces of dialogue. It might be useful when you have the actual story. Some of those ideas you’ll use, some you will not. You’ll never know which ones are good enough at the moment they occur to you, so write them all down.

Major steps of planning

Writing a good story or novel takes some planning. Planning a good story takes some hard work.

When preparing your story, make sure you have all the main points worked out before you start writing the first draft. For that, you can’t neglect four important steps.

1. Know the genre

First of all, you must know the genre you’re trying to write in. There is no other way of doing this than read a lot of books in that genre. Study them.

Observe their structure, realize what they have in common, the distribution of the scenes, the rhythm. Try to find out why is the book interesting (or not). The most you know about it, the better.

2. The conflict

No conflict, no story. The most critical part of your story is the conflict. It is what makes your audience interested and catch your readers.

There is no story without a conflict, which makes it a massive step towards your goal. Take all the time you need in it. Do some research on tips and good practices. The conflict is the center of everything, and you need to think carefully about it.

3. Organize your ideas

Remember those ideas you wrote before? The ones that came into your mind in the most unexpected places? That’s right. It’s time to get and organize them.

Reread what you wrote, improve the best ones and try to see where (if) they fit in. At this point, you are already working on the actual structure of your story. Start choosing what goes in each chapter.

4. Go deeper into each scene

Before you start writing the first draft, retake a look at your former ideas. At this point, the best ones should already be scenes for your chapters.

Observe what you have now very carefully, and go deeper into each scene. Add descriptions, dialogues, and other essential details. That will make your life easier when it comes to the time to start writing.

Outline

Outlining your story is, without a doubt, a great help. There are, nonetheless, authors that refuse to use an outline. Well, that’s okay, it’s not exactly mandatory, but it will definitely, make your work faster and easier.

With an outline, you can try ideas, explore them without making them permanent. It allows you to explore more without so much commitment.

The outline gives you the possibility of not being stuck at one point. You’ll always know what to write next, and as you’re writing, new ideas will keep coming to your mind. All of them help to turn the original plot even richer.

Inspiration is hard work

Many people think that a great writer has a stroke of inspiration, sits down at his desk and write the next Nobel Prize nominee. That’s far away from the truth!

Inspiration is the fruit of several months (sometimes years) of hard work. The good news is that, in the end, you might have that masterpiece after all.

What did I miss? 4 quick tips to improve your stories

What is lacking in my story? – The more you write, the more you’ll be asking yourself this question, and if you aren’t careful, it probably means that you’re not getting any improvement.

It’s really important for any professional try getting better at what it is they do, to improve themselves and the quality of their work. As a writer, you sometimes need to stop and really try to analyze your work and find some points where definitely have room to improvement.

Sure, this is not an easy task, but I can give you some tips that might help you through it.

1. Read your favorite authors.

Read your favorite books and authors again, and again, and try to find out what made those works some of your favorite. What made you want to read it in first place? What kept you reading that particular piece? What’s your favorite part? Why? Why does that story seem so good, at least for the reader, and maybe even the author in you?

It’s important for you to understand what makes a good first chapter, a good conflict and how the ideas they consist of, were organized. Is that something that would work for you? The style, the rhythm… the more information you have, the more you can improve your own work.

2. Organize and plan.

Yes, you are probably thinking that what you really like to do is write. Just sit and start writing… and that’s important, but often enough, a good story needs a bit of planning.

You need to organize your ideas and there are plenty of options to do it. Use them. Try different mixes of organization and work methods until you decide which ones are the best for you.

Organize your ideas, plan what will happen, when, how… Are you writing a mystery novel? Do you want the readers to have some hints that might make them curious? Every single detail is important and the more carefully planned it is, the better prepared you’ll be when you really do start writing.

3. Read it out loud.

Sometimes, what seems to work really well inside your head, turns out to be a bad idea on paper, and the best way to see if that is the case is to listen what is written. You’ll be easily aware of the narrative rhythm, the structure of the sentences, the way ideas are connected…

It can be a great experience and very insightful to ask someone else to read it out loud for you.

4. Focus on main character.

The main character is fundamental in any story. You must take some time to analyze it and improve it wherever or whenever possible. It should be remarkable and deep, good and evil at different times, and ideally, you want your readers to be able to identify with the character regarding several situations or experiences.

The main character should be an intense and active person, that either has something to win or lose. It should be someone your readers would actively care about, so they will read the story until the end in order to find out what happens to this character.

But be careful with the enthusiastic descriptions… There are other ways to show how your character looks like, the kind of person he or she is and the things they like, without describing them exhaustively. You can show or shine a light on all of these things through your character’s words and actions, the way in which he or she reacts to some situations, and how he or she talks to or approaches people…

This is a subtle way of giving people some knowledge about your character and, believe me, it is highly effective and way more powerful and interesting method of doing so.