Tuesday 4 August 2015

IWSG Day! My Novel is a Mess (How to survive the chaos point in your novel)

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Welcome IWSGers!

Is your novel ever a mess?

By Melodie Campbell  (Bad Girl)

Yes, I’m at that point.  Writing to a specific word count, three-quarters written, and my eleventh novel is an unqualified mess. 

If you are a veteran writer like me, you say it’s not going to happen this time.  But it does.

Here’s why:  
The Linear Approach:

This time, you are going to write linear, by gawd.  One chapter after another, in mathematical order, until you reach the end.  Each chapter will have an outline.

But here’s the problem with that.  You signed a contract that specifies a pretty exact word count.  Is your story going to magically end at the precise word count you need?

Damn straight, it’s not.  It’s going to meander along, minding its own business, taking little side trips, refusing to stay on course.

Because, of course, outlines are just that.  They’re a guide.  You don’t know whether the story is really going to pull together with sufficient motivation and all the goodies until you actually write the thing.  And here’s what happens along the way:

You need a new character to make the plot work.  You just thought of a fab new subplot.  Orlando doesn’t work as a side-setting.  You need to move it to Phoenix, and that means a whole lot of changes…

And before you know it, you’re scribbling on the outline, adding this, subtracting that, and it hits you in the face. Your book is a mess.

Scene plus Scene

I write comedy, and comedy is finicky.  Those good lines come when they come, and you have to get them down fast.  Sometimes they’ll present themselves to me when I’m in a restaurant.  Sometimes, when I’m already in bed.  (Yes, I keep a pen and paper on my bedside table. Ditto, by the loo.)

I always have an outline.  But when writing a highly comedic book, you have to write those funny scenes when you are inspired.  This means hopping around the timeline, writing the scene that works for you today, thinking of another great line, hopping back to an old scene to insert it, when you should be moving forward.  

Which brings you to this point: the important scenes are written, and they present themselves like completed sections of a jigsaw puzzle.  Little isolated islands without any bridges to each other.  You need to find the pieces that are missing and write the bits to connect them.

Because Sister, your novel is a mess.

That’s the point I’m at now.  The comedy is there.  The conflicts are in place.  The climax is written.  Now I need to take that kaleidoscope and move those pieces into the pattern that works best.

How to cope?  I think the best thing you can do is accept that this is going to happen.  Unless you are a robotic automaton lacking inspiration, you are going to veer from the plan more than once. 

At some point, every novel you write is going to be a mess. 

My advice: just accept it.  And understand that part of your role as writer is that of clean-up artist. 

That’s where I stand today, staring at a story that looks like a tornado just ran through it.

Time for the cleanup crew.  And a healthy wee dram or two.

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Melodie Campbell writes funny books, including the multi-award-winning The Goddaughter's Revenge.  She would feel much more secure if you would buy it.  For a sneak peek,  Click here


  1. Hi,
    I enjoyed reading your article and your advice is Spot On! I too write an outline and know from the start that I may venture out a little from the outline. But the outline does help me to get back on track.

    Like you, I think the key to coping is learning to accept that certain things might or are going to happen. One of your characters will get smart and take over, demanding to be heard and in my case, it is up to me to say, no, that is not where I want to go or say , hey that's a good idea.

    All the best with your writing.
    Pat Garcia

  2. Thank you for commenting, Pat! I love your line" One of your characters will get smart and take over" - too true

  3. I'm on my second book and I'm in the exact same place. My book is also a comedy, and while I've got the funny bits and all the important plot points, they don't all quite fit together like they should, no matter how much I keep smashing them together.

    On the one hand it's nice to know that people who have written eleven books have the same problem. On the other hand. what you're telling me is that after eleven books it still doesn't get any easier.

    *sigh* At least it's nice to know we're all in this together. Keep putting those puzzle pieces together (with a hammer and an x-acto knife, if necessary). I'm off to do the same.

  4. C.D. Does it get any easier? - good question! It gets easier in that you know you will come out of it. (probably. we writers are a doubtful lot) I'm going for my hammer right now! Thanks for commenting :)

  5. I write from a very loose outline, and I'm very linear. I would totally lose my way if I wrote chapter three, then chapter 8 or wrote scenes out of sequence. Even so, the first draft is always a mess, no matter how good I may think it is. My problem is that I love the flush and creativity of the first draft and dislike and struggle with revisions... Still I plug away at it.

    Bish, your co-host #128 on the Alex Scale

  6. Bish, so totally get it. I love the first draft, and can't understand why people saner than me prefer revising. To me, revising is the slug work. Creating is the fun!

  7. Wonderful post, Melodie. I love your expression: "clean-up artists". Yes, that's what we are. Or what we should be at any rate. First draft is only half of the deal. Cleaning it up is what makes it a great book.

  8. Olga, so true - first draft only half the deal. I'll remember that line! Thanks for commenting.

  9. Acceptance of hard truths isn't easy, but you have to do it sometime.

  10. Amen to that, M.! Thanks for commenting.