Saturday, 25 July 2015
How to Avoid the Novel Slump – Part 1
Has your novel sagged in the middle? Stuck half way and just can’t seem to move on?
You’re not on your own. At some stage during the novel writing process, every writer goes through what’s known as a novel slump. This usually occurs mid way through the novel – since that is where the majority of the story knits together – and there are several things that can happen to make the story stutter or grind to a halt.
There are lots of reasons why this happens, but in order to avoid hitting that novel slump, writers should become aware of the signs that things are not going according to plan, so they can take steps to overcome them or avoid them altogether.
Reasons for the Slump
One of the most obvious reasons a novel might begin to sag is that the narrative simply runs out of steam. All the freshness at the beginning of story has dried up and the ideas have vanished. When the narrative stutters, it’s usually a sign that the writer hasn’t planned ahead. This is also true if the writer isn’t sure what should happen next in the story or what direction it should take. Sometimes a sense of weariness sets in, where the initial sparkle and inspiration is lost and therefore it seems pointless to continue.
Writers also become bored with the story and they give up halfway through because of lack of inspiration – ideas are lacking and therefore interest in the story and the creativity to do it is dampened. This is also a symptom that the story itself isn’t working, whether that is down the characters not being right, the story not correctly planned out or that it’s the wrong subject matter entirely (write about genres you like and relate to, not what is currently in favour).
This also occurs when the writer has neglected to write down exactly what the story is about and why.
Another reason is that the writer has somehow created a tangled mess or the story has become overcomplicated, which happens when there are no controls on plot and subplot threads and the writer wanders off on a tangent. Then they realize too late that it’s all gone a bit wrong.
Sometimes the writer finds out at the halfway point that the story isn’t going in the right direction and they are not sure how to approach the problem – this often leads to the novel being dumped.
How many writers have a pile of unfinished novels collecting dust in a drawer somewhere?
Writers also fall into a slump because they tend to look back through the chapters they’ve written and start meddling by adding things, removing things and so on. This can be counterproductive, especially if the novel is only half done, because the novel doesn’t truly move forward as it should – any creative momentum is lost. It’s better to complete the initial draft, then go back to edit properly afterward.
Instead of concentrating on one writing project at a time, many writers get an idea for another novel and start writing that, so the initial novel falls to the wayside and the writer cannot be bothered with it. There are plenty of writers out there that do this.
Problems like these tend to zap a writer’s motivation, and the moment that happens, apathy sets in and the writer tends to give up and do something else because they’ve lost all interest in the novel. Does that sound like you?
So how do you avoid these pitfalls? What is the one factor that could eradicate all these problems?
Well, the answer is good old fashioned planning.
Ways to Avoid the Slump
If you are undertaking something as in-depth and as complicated as a novel, then a lot of thought, preparation and planning is absolutely essential.
Plot - write down the plot – what the story is about, who it involves and what the outcome will be. It should be thorough. The reason it should be thorough is because it always acts as the reference point.
Characters - have a detailed background for the main characters – what is their story, why are they involved? Will they have a subplot? How will they affect the other characters? Which ones will cause the most conflict? The more information you have about your characters, the easier it will be to construct scenes around them. Not only that but you can refer back to them at any time.
Chapter Outline - plan ahead with an outline or chapter breakdown of what the story might entail, the directions it might go and the kind of sub-plots and themes it might explore. This doesn’t have to be precise, exact or as thorough (unless of course you happen to love planning everything in detail), but as long as you have a guide to work with, any bumps in the road can usually be traversed.
Why do this? Because it allows the writer to overcome these common problems by virtue of having a chapter guide, which acts a prompt to stimulate ideas and keep the writer on the right track as far as the momentum of the story goes, because the aim of the story is to get from the beginning to the end, which means it is always moving forward.
A rough guide means the writer doesn’t have to sit staring at a blank screen while ideas for the next scene have seemingly been sucked into a black hole. Instead, a guide should inspire scenes. If anything it will at least keep you on the right course to move the story forward, even if ideas are few.
There are plenty of writers who insist they don’t do any planning. That’s fine - by all means write by the seat of your pants – but you will come unstuck.
In Part 2 we’ll look at more ways that writers can avoid falling into that halfway slump with their novels and some practical ways around it, should it happen.
Next week: How to Avoid the Novel Slump Part 2