HOME  |  BOOKS  |  ABOUT  | EXTRAS  |  CONTACT                                                                             

When the Book Won't Cooperate
Change your circumstances.

Every writer, whether new or experienced, reaches a point where the manuscript she's writing simply will not cooperate. The characters go mute. Or they go off in tangents (not to be confused with characters going in unexpected but welcome directions). The plot get so tangled up you don't know which is up and which is down.

When I was a new writer, long before I sold my first book, my usual reaction to this point in a manuscript's life was to set it aside and start something new. Needless to say, that's how I ended up with several dozen first chapters of books but almost nothing finished.

When you're unpublished, it's okay to set aside a book and start something new. It's part of the process, in some ways. It's a lot easier to start over than to spin your wheels in the muck of your recalcitrant story, getting nowhere but slinging mud everywhere, right?

Well, yeah. Of course it's easier. But is it smarter?

When you sell on proposal (and folks, that ought to be your goal whenever possible--to get paid before you write the book), you don't have the option of setting the book aside and starting something new. You have to make this story work, whatever it takes.

That doesn't mean you don't sometimes start a new book. But that new book has to be the same book you've sold. So how do you do it?


But you sold the book on the basis of the characters in your proposal, right? Well, sure. But your editor wants the book to be good. She wants it to work. So if you recreate a character, or give him new facets that make the book better, your editor will be happy. You are the writer. You control the story.

Let me add one caveat: if you're writing a series, and you've already introduced the character, you can't change him or her out. But you can change his character, even if you've established it in some way in a previous book. For instance, in my first book, the heroine's younger sister, Rose, was a seer gifted with the ability to see what she called "true love veils"--the face of one lover superimposed over the face of the lover's soul mate. She turned this paranormal gift into a matchmaking/wedding planning business. I established this ability in Rose Browning quite strongly in the first book of the series.

So when the second book came along, and I needed to change Rose's gift to something far darker--the ability to see "death veils" predicting a person's impending death, how did I do it? I created a circumstance in which the "true love veils" created a terrible consequence, when soul mates earned not a happy but a tragic ending. This allowed me to change her gift--and in the process, change her entire outlook on life. The Rose Browning of Forbidden Temptation was not the happy girl she was in her sister's story.

Motivate the change in your character and you can make it work.


I wrote 26 pages on my most recent WIP before I realized it was completely wrong. It wasn't as simple a problem as starting in the wrong place in the book. I started at the wrong pace. For 26 pages, there wasn't even a real hint of danger or suspense, and believe me, if you're writing a romantic suspense, those elements should be there almost from page one. Or maybe you're writing a contemporary romance that's full of sexual tension. Have you established some sort of attraction between your main characters from the beginning?

You need to start out with a bang, whether it's a literal bang like a gunshot or a metaphorical one like eyes locking and hearts pounding with unexpected desire. Or maybe, if the book you're writing is slower paced altogether, you need to make sure something happens at the start, something that changes the circumstances of your character.

Perhaps your problem comes later in the book. Maybe you've been moving at a breakneck pace and suddenly realize that your characters, the ones who should be falling madly in love, just aren't? Go back and find a place to slow down. Maybe it's as simple as a couple of extra paragraphs when the character reveal something new and intriguing about themselves to each other, something that helps them see each other in new ways. This can often provide the foundation for the romance you're trying to build.


I'm not talking about the setting of the story, necessarily, although sometimes that can work as well. I'm talking about changing where--or how--you write.

We can get in ruts just as easily as our characters do. And sometimes the simplest of changes--writing longhand instead of on the computer, writing without formatting, writing on the laptop outside in the garden instead of on the desktop in your office--can help shift your mind out of the rut that's keeping you from seeing the solutions for the story problems that prevent you from moving forward.


If you've been writing for any length of time, you probably already know the importance of POV, or point of view.  Whose point of view carries a scene can be a vital part of your storytelling process.  So when you find that you're struggling with a scene, consider a change of POV.  

Sometimes you want the person with the most  knowledge of the situation at hand to carry the scene in his POV. Sometimes it's the person who has the most at stake.  But sometimes, it's the person who knows the least about what's going on who offers the most effective point of view.  That character can be a powerful stand in for the reader, who is also in the dark and who experiences the twists and turns of new information unfolding right along with the POV character.


I've spoken of this before, but something I've started doing recently has helped me get past my procrastinating ways. It's a simple hashtag on Twitter: #1k1hr. But it's a powerful motivation to sit down for a hour and write with no rules. Production is king. You're going for those 1000 words in an hour. You may think it can't be done. But I promise you, it can. I've written as much as 1700 words in an hour once I'm deep into the story.

It's not that I'm that fast a writer--it's that I commit to write for an hour and I let myself write crap if that what it takes to make that word goal. It's okay to write dreck--dreck can be edited into something readable. Blank pages can't.

We all desire to write the very best story we can. I do. I know you do, too. But sometimes, that desire gets in the way of writing at all. It can paralyze you--it can make your manuscript rebel. Sometimes what we think of as a writing block is really just that self-paralysis that comes from fearing failure. It's okay to fail in the first draft. That's why it's called the FIRST draft.

Don't sweat the spelling. Don't worry about the research. Don't get your knickers in a twist over grammar. Just write the story in your head. You can edit all of it when it's done. Change the rules. Change your ways.

Change is the key to dealing with an uncooperative manuscript. This time, when the story just isn't coming together, instead of setting the story aside and starting something new, change something. Anything.

Move around the obstacle. Then move forward.

Copyright 2011 by Paula Graves