Back in June, I gave a presentation about revision at the Historical Novel Society Conference in San Antonio.
One of the questions was very interesting—when do you think there is no hope?
The answer is complex. I don’t believe a manuscript is unfixable, though I am also a fan of putting one away for a while if you can’t get traction on it and moving on to the next one. As I say to clients, every big name author I’ve ever heard interviewed has a drawer book. An early novel that is in a drawer and has never seen the light of day.
Sometimes those books come back out again once you have more experience writing and enough time has gone by, and sometimes they don’t.
But as I thought about this question, I wondered if what this person was really asking is something closer to , “What are the mistakes you see in manuscripts over and over?”
This question has a more concrete answer. Besides my work as a book reviewer and editor, I also review manuscripts for writers as part of coaching work that we do together when they are revising. As you might suspect, there are patterns.
Here are the top five mistakes I have seen in manuscripts and sometimes in published novels…
- Loss of Narrative Drive/Lack of tension
- No plot arc—just a series of events
- Starts in the Wrong Place
- Not enough conflict/stakes are not escalating, or even present
- Too many surprises thrown in to try to hide the fact that the story is sagging in the middle.
The good news is that these are all fixable, which gets us back to the original question. It may not be an easy solution, and it will likely involve cutting swaths out of your manuscript and adding new scenes, plus a rearrangement of the whole thing, but it is possible to fix them. 🙂