Ok, so. You broke your book.
You know, that book. The one buried in some obscure file on your computer. The one that haunts you. The one that no matter what you do, you can’t fix.
But no matter how hard you try, you can’t fix it. You break it more. You shatter this book into a million pieces and stare at them while you sob hysterically.
Okay maybe not that last part. Or if you’re like me, definitely that last part.
Confession: I broke a book in 2014. It’s called Lux and Lies and I’ve talked about it from time to time. I’ve tried countless times to revisit it and fix it, but it just never freaking happens. I only break it more. Or lose all faith in my story. But I love the characters (and I’ve already paid for a cover), so I keep returning. I can’t bring myself to throw it away (because I’ve already paid for the cover. Quick “Sh!t I Learned” never, ever buy and create the cover before the book is actually finished and ready to be published).
Maybe you have a book like this. One your editing now. Or one who didn’t quite finish during NaNoWriMo because you ran into its broken-ness. Or maybe this is just a book you’ve been working on for years but can never quite finish because you keep running into wall after wall after wall.
Well, I’m here to help. Hopefully. Because you see, I’m fixing Lux and Lies. That damn book will be broken no more. And I plan on releasing it soon.
Here’s how I went about fixing it.
Note: This is just how I fixed my broken book. This may not work for your broken book. But think about how you could apply this to your situation and just no matter what, don’t give up.
Let’s get started. Put on your big girl/boy pants and let’s do this shit.
- For the love of all things holy, STAY ORGANIZED.
I can’t even explain how important this is. With Lux and Lies, I had files and drafts scattered everywhere. I’d used parts of the book in a writer’s workshop and had those revised files scattered in with old drafts. I had Word files and Scrivener files. It was a freaking mess. So take some time here. A day. A week. However long you need, and just go through what you have. Print it out if you need to. Or delete the old stuff. But sit down, and make yourself go through EVERYTHING. Keep only what you need and get rid of the rest. Or tuck it into a file where you don’t have to see it.
We’re simplifying here. Only see the latest draft you have. Nothing else.
2. Go back to the beginning and identify a motivation for every character.
Okay this one applies to me. Big time. One big reason Lux and Lies broke is because I lost the motivation for one of my main characters. His backstory stopped making sense. His actions weren’t justified enough. And it was all because I didn’t have a good enough motivation for him. If a character isn’t motivated by something, then they can’t move through the story in a way that readers will believe. So make a list. Write down every motivation, big and small. Make sure those motivations are rock solid and as bombtastic as they can be.
3. Identify every character’s goal. Specifically the good guy’s goal and the bad guy’s goal. This is what makes them GOOD or BAD (um…duh, Meg).
This is a cause and effect type thing with your characters’ motivations. They are motivated by something which then makes them work toward a goal. Cause and effect. Identify that.
This was another thing that I broke in Lux and Lies. I didn’t understand some of my character’s big goals. These goals eventually create your book’s conflict, so you need to understand exactly what your character wants. WHY they want it is their motivation. See how this all ties together? You need to know this shit.
4. What are you conflict sources?
See how I’m just going down the line here? It’s like we’re building a house and motivation is your foundation. And goals are your support beams. And conflict is like the whole damn thing because without conflict, you’re up a creek. Like even more up a creek than you already are.
How do you identify conflict? Well, hopefully GOOD GUY’s and BAD GUY’s goals are in direct opposition to each other. Boom, conflict. Maybe your two love interest characters can’t be together for some reason. Conflict. Maybe your main character’s goal comes at a big price. Conflict. Find all these little points of tension in your book. Mark them on your list.
5. Time for a bad word: OUTLINE
I know. Some of you pantsers out there just went into a stress coma. But this outline can be as detailed or not detailed as you want. You need to strip down what happens in your book.
So for my book, I had written up to my midpoint. I had events that I knew had to happen. I had events that I WANTED to happen.
Maybe your NaNoWriMo book is finished. But you don’t have enough meat on its bones. Meat being enough action and conflict. This will help.
Or maybe you’re just stuck in the middle like me.
So on a different page from your Motivation/Goal/Conflict list, write down your. . .
II. Inciting Incident
III. Plot Point #1
IV: First Culmination
VI. Plot point #2
Or however you structure your book. Now, if you’re like me, you run out of stuff to write down after the midpoint. Maybe you know what the ending will be. Or how the climatic finale will go. Write that in.
Now, look back over at your Motivation/Goal/Conflict list and . . .
FOLLOW THE CONFLICT!!!!
Hopefully, you have one big source of conflict identified (plus other little points of tension, which I think if you look closely enough, you will find that those little points fall under the umbrella of one big source). Now, take that big source of conflict and brainstorm. What else could possibly happen here? What if you moved your midpoint up to your Plot Point #1? What if your climax became your midpoint? Move things around and THINK about your character’s goals and motivations. If you look closely enough, those motivations should guide you straight to points of conflicts. And that conflict might become big enough, and bombtastic enough that it could be its own source of action.
Keeping imagining what would happen if you added in more conflict. Or set your character up to fail. Or put something in their path that was in direct opposition to their motivation. Rub things together until you cause some friction and light a few fires.
These fires will be your plot’s structure. Don’t stop lighting fires until you have a basic structure of an outline.
6. Last and most important: DON’T STOP WRITING
This one is hard for me. If I don’t have a fully detailed, fleshed out outline, I do NOT like to write. But with a broken book, you don’t have that luxury. Or let me put it this way, I didn’t have that luxury. Because if I let myself stop writing on it every day, then it would have stayed broken. I wouldn’t have made myself fix it. So I set myself a deadline and kept writing.
I organized everything. I made my lists in a notebook that I kept open in front of me, and then I went through my draft and found places where I felt comfortable writing. I knew I couldn’t write new scenes until I had my outline done, but I did know there were a few scenes that needed to be re-written. Or little scenes that needed to be added in. So I went back to the beginning and started adding in those little things.
Now, please note: I did NOT edit. Don’t let yourself go back to the beginning and start editing. If you edit, you will just keep running into that same broken-ness. So we are not editing yet. When I say I went back to the beginning, I mean I just went back and found spots that needed new scenes or completely re-written scenes.
As hard as it might be, don’t let yourself start editing. You will seriously screw yourself over. Trust me, that’s what I did all throughout 2015 with Lux and Lies. It does not work.
So, to recap:
Set manageable writing goals for yourself and attack them every day.
Keep lighting fires until you have the bones of the story.
Keep finding conflict to add the meat.
But most importantly, poke and prod at things until you understand WHY your book broke. Where it went sideways. Find that spot and attack it. Don’t let this book stay broken anymore.
Once you un-break it and finish it, then start editing. Here is my latest editing process if you want to know how I tackle that beast.
You can do it 🙂
If you would like to check out my latest post where I talk about my recent rejection from a large digital-first publisher, check that out here! I promise it’s not a sob story.
Post image by Dustin Lee via Unsplash.com