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How to course correct when you realise your story is heading off a cliff

I haven’t been able to write for the past couple of weeks due to work pressures, so I thought this weekend was a good opportunity to have a read through the first 30,000 words of Book 2 so far, and see how it’s going.

Turns out that Book 2 is not going well.

I’m afraid to say the entire thing has somewhat veered off the road, and I’m not sure how it happened.

I don’t know whether it’s my writing style, or my approach to structure or what, but so far it’s an uneven, slow moving, unengaging mess with zero stakes, and nothing propelling the narrative. In other words, it’s all the mistakes I made the first time round coming back to say hi.

Here are the main issues:

The world of the book is way too complex

The alien immigration camps are a multi-layered and complex interplay of old grudges, new problems, class structures and human incompetence. I’ve got twenty-three different alien species in this mix as well. It’s a rich world, but I’m trying to put it all on the page, which means there is a lot of stuff happening in every scene, all of which is holding up the narrative. Hence:

It’s taking WAY too long for anything significant to happen

With my original plan for the structure I had a smaller mystery which my heroes were looking into, but then in the process of that, they stumble across the real mystery. The trouble is that I’m 30,000 words in, and they are still only just realising that the smaller mystery is there at all. This isn’t good! They should be neck deep in the thrills and spills of mystery solving by now. Instead, they are having long conversations about how things don’t seem quite right. Yawn.

Consequently, my characters have zero incentive to do anything

My two main characters have landed in this prison camp and have spent the entire book so far reacting to things rather than shaping the narrative. During my re-read, I realised with a jolt that my characters currently have no reason to leave their rooms other than a contrived idea of ‘finding out what’s really going on’. I have to fix that.

The Plan

First step is to pare down what I show in the book. There’s all this complex activity happening in the camps, but I should only show the aspects of it that directly impact on our heroes. I need to take out any scenes that don’t directly impact the plot, and get rid of some planned introductions of different species. They can wait their turn. Perhaps in book 3.

The main change I need to make is to increase the stakes as early as possible. I need to make my main characters active participants as soon as they arrive, and make the camps a much more dangerous place for them to be from the off. That way they have a clear reason for everything they are doing, beyond just being curious.

So I’m back to editing – a lot earlier than I planned – but it’ll make the opening much stronger, much more exciting, and a much stronger foundation for all the thrills and spills I have planned.

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