From Writers’ Village:
So your story ‘doesn’t work’. You’ve worried it to death. You’ve cut stuff out. You’ve put it back in again. Now you’re wondering for the nth time if that comma in line three should really have been a semi-colon or a full stop.
Isn’t it time to junk the whole wretched tale and start again?
No. Your story might still be rescued, faults and all. Here are eleven sneaky ways. (‘Sneaky’ because they’re quick fixes and don’t pretend to be complete writing strategies.)
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3. Your plot has drifted out of sync.
If your character grew up in central Boston, s/he couldn’t have been educated at the same time in Vermont. But you only realize that after you’ve written 10,000 words.
Don’t do a total rewrite. Just go back and add some transitional lines:
‘The family’s move from Boston to Vermont happened like a dream. She remembered only fragments of it. One blink and there were trees. She’d never had a garden before.’
You can use the same ploy to tidy up all kinds of (small) anomalies. Have a character allude to them, agree they’re odd, confess they can’t remember all the details, then move on.
The reader will go along with that. Otherwise, they’ll cry “Hey ho, a plot hole!”
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6. You have too many named characters.
Your reader can focus their attention on only two or three named characters per chapter. Unlike you, they don’t have the benefit of a cast list to distinguish Jim from Joel and Anne from Alice. They’ll give up.
A. Give all your named characters names that start with different letters. And…
B. Name only those characters who appear continually in the story or who must otherwise be memorable. Blur out the bit players. Identify them by labels.
So ‘Joe Dale, manager of the deli store’ becomes ‘the deli store manager’.
He can still play a colourful role but, being nameless, he won’t upstage your main players.
. . . .
10. Your dialogue is confusing.
It’s a great idea to draft a scene, initially, as a play script. Just dialogue. With its tit-for-tat exchanges, dialogue has conflict and vitality built in.
But a tit-for-tat exchange is still a playscript. It won’t work as a story. You need to add tags or other descriptors to show us who’s saying what to whom – plus constant reminders of the context.
Otherwise, it’s just voices in a vacuum.
If a single passage of dialogue goes on for more than three lines, it risks turning into a monologue. Break it up. Intersperse it with speaker labels, dialogue beats (inconsequential actions that indicate who’s speaking) or a speakers’ private thoughts, maybe set in italics.
‘She chewed gloomily on a breadstick.’ / The waiter refilled her glass.’ / ‘Not much of a menu, she thought.’
Now we know we’re in a restaurant. And who’s speaking/thinking. The monologue has also acquired life and texture.
Link to the rest at Writers’ Village