We all like to think we’re dutiful little ink slingers, writing pitch-perfect prose and never straying into bloodcurdlingly-bad storytelling territory. Sometimes even the best manuscript becomes possessed by bad writing that’s in need of a little exorcism.
Here are some tips on how to find the sickness within your story or book and purge it.
The Stages of the Exorcism
Every good exorcism follows a standard checklist used to pinpoint and purge the bad parts:
- Pretense – When the demon hides its true identity
- Breakpoint – When the demon reveals itself
- Clash – When the exorcist and the demon fight for the soul of the possessed
- Expulsion – If the exorcist wins the battle, the demon leaves the body of the possessed
PRETENSE: Determining the true identity of your story
The first step to any good manuscript exorcism is determining whether the offending text is actually a good story hiding its identity in malevolent prose.
Wordiness, passive voice, gaping plot holes – all of these things and more can turn a good story into one that haunts you in the middle of the night.
Remember that spark of creativity that gave you the idea in the first place? Try to figure out how your idea has mutated from the compelling, page-turner you first imagined. Those are the afflicted parts that need to be exorcised.
BREAKPOINT: The demon reveals itself
So, all this poking and prodding of your story is going to stir things up a bit. Confusion will give way to extreme panic. Shouting obscenities is not uncommon. All the darkness once seething just below the surface is going to rear its ugly head.
Take a deep breath. This is what you want. Unless you tackle these problems head-on, you might as well be running around in the dark with a busted flashlight. So grit your teeth and with steely determination, soldier forward. You can do this.
CLASH: The exorcist (author) and the demon fight for the soul of the possessed (story)
Now that you’ve got a snarling beast of a broken story on your hands, it time to channel your inner Father Damien and arm yourself with the tools you need to fight for the story you want to tell.
Work to make your opening hook one that readers will salivate over, make sure there is believable conflict and give your characters a goal that matters. All of these things will put you well on the way to writing a story with soul.
EXPULSION: If the exorcist wins the battle, the demon leaves the body of the possessed
Not every devilishly-possessed story is going to go along quietly. Some may snarl and drool. Others may huddle and swipe with claws. It might seem like you will never win. But persistence is key.
Casting out the bad parts doesn’t have to be as messy as watching your beloved projectile vomit pea soup. Daunting, it may be. But with iron will, steely determination and a commitment to confronting the evil head-on, you will succeed.