There are many potholes in the road to finishing a book. One of the ones I find myself constantly falling into is what I call the false start…where you’re so sure you’ve found the perfect way to start a book. Then you get about 1/4 of the way into it and realize there’s a problem.
Everything’s wrong! The heroine’s a doormat, the hero’s an Alpha schmuck one growl away from his caveman roots and somewhere along the way the secondary plot (in this case since it’s a romance, that would be the external conflict) has run away with what you’ve written of the book. In summary, the hero and heroine are in the same book, but nowhere near to being to the romantic dance the reader’s want.
So now what?
I’ve crossed this bridge so many times I’m pretty sure it’s named after me. Either that or I get a frequent visitors card and a free Starbuck’s for my pathetic need to trudge this road so many times.
So here’s what I’ve done to get myself on the right path:
- Identify the real problem. The start feels wrong. Nothing after that feels right. But why? For me it usually falls into a couple of reasons. First off, I’ve accepted my faults. I love conflict. Because of that, I often start too fast. I jump into the shark-infested central plot without giving the hero and heroine time to have a good, quality meeting. Other times the problem is I started with the wrong point of view character. Who has the most at stake when the story begins? One of the characters will always have more to lose, more dangers lurking around the corner. That’s who the reader will be drawn to. That’s who you should start with.
- Scrutinize your characters, plot and outline. If you’re a plotter, ask yourself if what you’ve envisioned is going to work. If you were the reader, would you buy that book? Is it challenging enough to avoid the pitfalls of a cliched romance? Are your characters too predictable? Are there three or four things about your characters readers can empathize with? Are they likable enough for to garner support from the first page?
- More importantly, trust your crit partners. It’s easy to second guess yourself. If you’re so far down in the story’s weeds, you aren’t going to be able to see if you’re on the right path. Take a deep breath and ask someone else to read what you’ve started with. Be honest. Tell them you think something’s wrong, but need a fresh set of eyes on it.
- Identify what’s salvageable from what you’ve written. – Not everything has to be tossed. There’s almost always a few worthy nuggets in the snarly mess of a start, no matter how messy it is.
- Don’t be afraid to scrap what’s needed. There’s no such thing as a wasted word. While the false start might not make it into the book, it’s accomplished its purpose. It’s gotten you thinking about the book and you’ve gotten to know the characters well enough to know what’s not good enough for them.
- If all else fails, keep writing. First drafts don’t have to be clean, precise or even close to right. They just have to be. Fix false starts in the second round. Sometimes the only way to fully know how to start is by finishing the journey. Once you’ve established the end and the bumpy, dangerous road to get there, you’ll know and understand more about the characters and where they were when the journey started.
Be fearless my fellow road warriors. The path to THE END is filled with dangerous potholes. Just know you aren’t alone. Someone will always be behind you with a rope, a good tranquilizer (when the muse really needs it) or a big pot of coffee.