In the past few years, I’ve been really struggling with completing my novels. I have at least four that I really believe in, that have great characters and fun plots, that I want to see published. The problem is, I never finish. Even when I do, I am dissatisfied by the ending. In one case, the novel randomly ended when I least expected it, and I couldn’t figure out why.
I’ve also been struggling with some pretty major depression, and one very late night, while staring at the ceiling, listening to my husband snore and my two girls talk to themselves in their sleep, I had an epiphany.
The problem I’ve been facing has not been that I don’t know how to finish a novel. The problem is that all my novels have the same basic, flawed premise where I take great characters and neuter their ability to help themselves.
If I’m good at anything, it’s that I create interesting, flawed characters with strengths, weaknesses and great backstories. I tend to write about women; what with me being a woman and all, my main characters tend to be female. I enjoy writing my men, but my women tend to be my main characters.
The problem is that my novels tend to be a bit relationship-focused. It’s not romance, but they all follow the same basic pattern.
- Female is living an independent life on her own.
- Encounters male.
- Female is challenged or captured (at least two have an imprisonment)
- Male rescues female.
- Story stalls and has more to go, or ends and is lackluster.
In short, in none of my stories is the female main character anything other than a victim who must be rescued. Given that I actually write strong, independent females, this is distressing. The only one who does not need rescue? She is literally not what I would consider a strong female. However, she’s also the most interesting character I’ve written, in my opinion. She’s a sheltered priest who is sent on a quest, where she partners with the evil male character at the behest of her god. It’s a story about corruption and the definition of evil.
I’m in such a rut of bland plot development. There is no impact. These women have no impact on their world, not in any recognizable way. The world and its villains act upon them, they are victimized in some way, and are rescued. They are captured, imprisoned, rescued, just like a good little damsel in distress.
No wonder I get tired and don’t want to finish them. They’re all the same story.
So I need to stop this. No more will I write victims. I’ll let one (the original) keep her imprisonment, because it really is interesting, but she doesn’t need to be rescued. Not completely. Yeah, she’ll need help, but she must be instrumental to her own escape, not just rescued like a damsel in distress.
I want these women to make noise. They need to make a mess. They need to leave the world changed, unsettled, even broken in some way if I have to. What’s the point of a protagonist who affects no one but the one bad guy?
My favorite stories have always been about characters who may come from humble beginnings, but by the end the world knows they’re there, for better or worse. They make waves, they disturb the status quo. And that’s my problem; all of my novels are a bunch of Freudian navel-gazing, tiny microcosms where the tale ventures no further than a few dozen people. If I want to break this rut, these women need to start making some noise.
So tell me, what are your biggest plot flaws? Are you, like me, able to hand your manuscripts to psychiatrists so they can analyze them for the inner workings of your own psyche? What hangs you up when you write stories?