When Books Go Wrong!

Annoyed-looking girl stares out at us (front-view), cheek resting against her hand while an open book lies on table in front of her.

Let’s face it, writing isn’t easy. It LOOKS easy, to our readers, and that’s because we authors work hard to make sure what we eventually deliver to them is seamless, smooth prose that tells a logically believable (and well-researched) tale that’s also emotionally satisfying. But how many drafts did we go through to get there?

Granted, some books are easier than others. Sometimes a story is so clear to us that it very nearly writes itself. Some authors are blessed with many of those. But in my experience anyway, that is rare.

“Think of Olympic athletes,” I often told my students years ago when I was teaching romance writing. “Don’t they make their respective sport achievements look easy?” I used the analogy to provide some perspective, as they often came in thinking the writing would be easy. “Think of how smooth and graceful they are, how effortlessly they seem to flow through the motions of their sport. Watching them is like reading a finished story. Then think of the years of practice and study, the repeated successes and failures, the continued drive to keep getting better that they have invested to achieve that apparent ease. That is also the struggle behind most successful stories (and their authors).”

Pair of Olympic swimmers shown in simultaneous action in parallel pool lanes via underwater camera.

The writing does get easier the longer you’re at it. Practice helps just about anything! Yet every book seems to present its own challenges. Just when you think the process is getting comfortable, the next story comes along with its own unique twist you’ve never needed to handle before. New learning curve, every book.

Not to mention there are so many ways a book can go wrong. And I’m not even talking about the marketing part, here. Bad cover? Bad blurb? Oh, no. I’m only talking about the story here. Every aspect of a story, from the tone to the characters, the plot, the emotional arcs and the structure, the pacing, the dialogue–even the balance of those elements, or the choice of point-of-view characters in scenes, and more –all of these can make or break the successful telling of the story. Readers don’t see this, because we hope that all of those issues are smoothed out before they ever see a page.

You may have guessed I am in the throes of revising a book that has “gone wrong” and that’s the inspiration for this blogpost. Yup. I have been working for ages on a prequel to LORD OF MISRULE and had it at least ¾ done, maybe more. But something wasn’t working. Sent it to several critique partners, and it was clear from their comments that I was right, something wasn’t working. But none of them could quite put a finger on it. Their multiple views did help me to do so, I think!

Sometimes when books go wrong, it’s not just one big thing, but an accumulation of many small things. Kind of like dropped stitches in knitting. You might not notice them when they happen, but later as you look back at the completed rows, there they are. A character’s attitude is wrong, the tone is off or someone’s emotional reaction is missing. Some plot developments may happen in the wrong order. And as in knitting, there’s nothing to be done except unravel it back to the rows that were intact, and redo it.

I hate having to delay this book even longer, but I won’t release a book that I know isn’t right. That’s not to say my books are perfect, but I hope they are as good as I am capable of offering at the time they come out. Alas, I am a “pantser” (meaning I have to discover the story as I go along), so that usually means multiple drafts to sort things out. I have unraveled a big chunk of this book and am busily “re-knitting” it as fast as I can. I hope now to have it repaired and out by June at least. Maybe with a miracle, sooner. But it won’t be in April as I had planned. (sigh)

Have you read books that you thought the author should have “re-knitted” but didn’t? (please don’t name specific titles or authors) If you’re a writer, which would you say happens for you more often, easy ones or hard ones? Do you find there’s any one specific way books most often go wrong for you? If you are a plotter instead of a pantser, what still goes wrong sometimes even though you are following your thought-out plan?

About Gail Eastwood

Gail Eastwood is the author of seven Regencies that were originally published by Signet/Penguin. After taking ten years off for family matters, she has wobbled between contemporary romantic suspense and more Regency stories, wondering what century she's really in and trying to work the rust off her writing skills. Her backlist is gradually coming out in ebook format, and some are now available in new print editions as well. She is working on the start of a Regency-set series and other new projects. Stay tuned!
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2 Responses to When Books Go Wrong!

  1. I’m a pantser, and I almost always keep several drafts, because I edit and re-edit as I go, saving the old versions in case the latest version goes awry. Now I’m in the middle of the kind of re-knitting you describe. Somehow, the heroine went wrong. The hero is great, but the heroine will have to step up and become stronger to be worthy of him. (Not that the hero doesn’t have his problems, too, but he turns out OK.) Now I have to figure out at what point the heroine becomes a new person, so to speak. I think this will be a relatively easy change. 🙂

    • Barbara, that sounds so similar to what I am dealing with! I send you my sympathy. Those troublesome heroines. Mine needs to lighten up her attitude, since the hero’s end of things is a bit dark, although understandably so given his problems. Right now they’re dragging down the story! I hope your changes do turn out to be easy. 🙂

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