A Few Things You Could Do Better Next Time

Some things are unfixable without having to redo the whole novel. Some characters are just so completely broken, some plots so fundamentally flawed, some aspects of the story just completely unlikable. Try as you may, there will be no saving (at least completely) this work until you completely overwrite the story.

At this point, many writers (most notably myself) would give up on a story. To be honest, when you have such a critical failure in your book, no one blames you if you quit out on your story. Really! I understand for you to have such a terrible fail, whether it was by ignorance, poor planning, or laziness. But there’s nothing you can do now.

However, the entire community of writers will blame you if you stop working on your story. You have no excuse for that. Your job as a writer is not the courageous conqueror, but the plucky underdog who doesn’t give up. You don’t succeed by “winning” a race, merely by enduring enough garbage being thrown at you by self-editing and critics and editors until you get to the end and go pro.

That being said, the greatest quality of a writer is the tendency to learn from their mistakes. In fact, learning from your mistakes is a stellar tendency no matter where you come from or what you do: learning from our mistakes, identifying our failures and then committing to not repeat history, is some of the best work we can do to improve.

So, as I give you this handy list of things to help you when you start a new book or even rewrite an old one, keep in mind that the best thing you can do to improve your stories is to understand your problems and not repeat them. All the advice in the world won’t help you very much if you repeat history.

Now, I’ll start talking about the basics: important basics you may have missed. Whether you’re a newer writer looking to start their first novel or a seasoned author who’s just got the rhythm down, these are important elements in a story, especially for first starting out.

First of all, start with clear character motivation. There is a clear-cut line between characters that sag and characters that seem “bouncy”: this is usually their motivation or lack thereof. A character without motivation (or maybe they have motivation but you didn’t stress it clearly enough) is a servile robot, surrendered to the will of its master. Don’t write bots.

When you look at a character’s motivation, think of something that the character wants but can’t have. Has the character not been able to travel because they’re blind? Perhaps they can’t go golfing because they’re in a wheelchair. Do they want to go out and find a cure for their mother, but can’t because they’re too afraid/don’t have the weapons or experience? Whatever it is, make sure we know what the main character wants and why they can’t have it.

In order to “spice up” characters, a lot of authors add quirks or flaws to them in order to make them seem more original. For example, the main character’s girlfriend is obsessed with fashion and clothing. Maybe the halfling bard that joined your party has a weakness for the vices of the city (I made a character in D&D like that, once). Maybe one character of your group is just really irritated by another in a funny way. What I’m saying is that quirks and flaws are interesting, but don’t focus on the flaw or quirk too much. Let it blend into the character’s personality.

Establish strong and drastic character arcs. Peg a goal on where you want your character to end up, and influence him or her along the way with events that move you towards the goal. Want the hero to be less cowardly? Continuously put him in situations that require him to rise to the occasion and reveal that true courage is the overcoming of fear and not the absence of it.

As far as the plot if concerned, create a very nefarious evil. Show them doing evil things with evil attitudes. Show them slaughtering civilians while yawning. Show them being cruel to people’s loved ones. Inspire the reader’s ire and focus it directly on your villain. Make the reader hate the villain.

After you’ve got a properly hateworthy villain, you have to establish their connection with the hero. Here’s how it works: at some point in the story, the desires of the villain and that of the hero start to actively conflict. They get in direct opposition of each other, and the villain seeks to destroy the hero. This can be for a multitude of reasons, but don’t keep the hero devoid of an archenemy for very long.

Once the hero and the villain start to conflict, peg a clear goal on the wall and aim for it with all your might. The story ends when the goal is fulfilled. Examples include finding out who committed the murder, stopping the supervillain from turning the doomsday weapon on, stopping an invasion of the kingdom (hint hint, not everyone will get that one), and racing to capture a win, a special animal, a cure, or a dangerous criminal. The possibilities are endless.

Once you have your goal, set up a few glaring obstacles. Try to avoid the mundane; instead, make the obstacles perfectly uncommon. It’s a new world, and the developing character needs to learn how to deal with new problems. For this, they’re going to need someone to teach them.

I try not to advertise writing characters to roles, but the wise councilor is not a bad idea on this count. You need someone to guide the main character through this new, scary world and explain it to them. Take someone extremely competent and experienced and have them guide the main character through trouble and teach them how to overcome struggles of their own.

World building is an important topic, but as much as you’d like to go off on a tangent about this dragon’s weight, breeding capabilities, smell of breath, etc., just know that the reader doesn’t care about trivial details if they don’t explain anything else about the story. Be careful when explaining the world, and watch out for boring bits. Edit out info dumps and work worldbuilding into the dialogue instead. The characters will talk about what they don’t understand, so make the world and its developments important to the characters, so worldbuilding doesn’t seem like info dumping.

Good luck, and happy writing!

Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Plus, I mean, it wouldn’t hurt to check out the Resources tab. It’s full of super helpful material and I promise it will help you out. Until then, writers!


Published by Van Ghalta

A cold, dark, mysterious character who purposefully wrote a story so that he could fit into it...A story where he himself WRITES stories, practices martial arts, blogs, plays airsoft, collects MTG trading cards, plays outdated video games, and writes weird, third-person bios for himself...

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