Recently a student asked: “What do you do if you can’t finish your novel?” She said that over the years she’d started many more novels than she’d completed.
Authors have many reasons for abandoning their novels. An author may:
- Lose his inspiration;
- Become bored. A tip: you will become bored at some stage. When you do, it’s vital to rekindle your inspiration — the ideas in this article may help;
- Lose track of his novel’s elements. It’s very easy to lose track, especially if you take a week or two away from the novel. I keep a bullet journal journal for each novel, as well as mind maps, and an idea board, in case I need to work on something else for a time.
Before you worry about finishing, think about this…
Are you sure you need to finish your novel?
Your novel may be fine. You could turn it into a novella, or a couple of short stories. Shorter material sells, as we discuss in Short Reads. Word for word, chances are that you’ll make more from a novella than a novel.
So, if you can write a scene or two to turn your novel into a novella, do that.
Want to keep writing? These ideas may help.
1. Revisit the story question: what’s the point of your novel?
Authors start a novel confidently. Somewhere at around page 100, they realize that they’ve literally lost the plot.
Yes, you need obstacles to carry you through the saggy middle, BUT don’t string incidents and disasters along like beads on a string… There has to be a point.
Genre gives you a clue to the story question — the point of a novel. Are you writing a romance? If so, you need to keep your two protagonists together, but apart, until the end of your novel. The story’s over once your two main characters resolve their differences.
Similarly, if you’re writing a standard mystery and your sleuth knows whodunit at page 100, you’d better concoct another mystery for him to solve immediately.
2. List your characters: use them (or create a new character)
When you write the first few chapters of a novel you may have new characters sprouting like weeds, even if you outline heavily. That’s fine. Keep them all; you never know when a character will be useful.
Trust your subconscious mind. You can weed out the extras later in the editing process.
Stuck? Look at your character list for inspiration. Alternatively, create a new character.
3. Grab 20 index cards: list 20 ideas for fun scenes
We mentioned using index cards in this post:
Let’s say you’re writing a novel. You’ve written the setup (the situation at the start of the novel): someone was murdered, a woman in a happy marriage discovered her husband was unfaithful, or whatever.
You want to create scenes which will take you through the book. Just get a packet of index cards. Whenever you get an idea for a character or an event, write it on an index card. Limit yourself to one incident or character per card.
Take your index cards to the beach, or hiking. You’ll soon have 20 ideas for scenes you could write. Before you know it, you’ll be inspired and will finish your novel.
4. Write the ending, then write backwards from the end to where you are
Try it. Once you know the ending, your confidence increases so that finishing your novel is easy.
It’s your book, so finish your novel in any way that makes sense. You could even turn it into a serial
I’m a big fan of serials and other short fiction. A month ago I started a new historical mystery. Before I knew it, I’d found two historical events which HAD to be in the novel.
Including both events meant that the novel would be 120,000 words. Maybe more. This would disrupt the publication schedule for that author name, so I thought hard about it.
Finally I decided to write the novel as a serial of four novellas. After I’d made the decision I was happier. With the benefit of four cliffhangers to build suspense, I know that those readers who enjoy the serial will keep reading.
When you write in series, you're giving yourself more chances to sell with every novel you write.More info →
Why write serial fiction?
Everyone's busy today. A serial is by its nature, faster to write, and publish, than a novel.
It's a quicker read too, and many readers appreciate this. While a reader may hesitate before committing hours to a novel, he can read an episode of your serial in minutes.More info →