Fixing Failed Fiction

True confession: Yes, I still have far too much failed fiction – novels, novellas, short stories, and half-baked plots – on my hard drive.

And yes, I even published some of it, and instantly regretted it. The reviews were ugly, when anyone even bought one of those books.

It’s been embarrassing. Frustrating. The kind of thing that wakes me up at 3 AM, and I stare at the ceiling, convinced that my successful books were just flukes.

(Hey, at 3 in the morning, anything can seem like high drama, and I can awfulize with the best of them.)

So, yeah. I’m not sure I’m the queen Fix failed fictionof failed fiction, but I’d certainly rate highly on the runners-up list.

Then, last month, when Bonnie (Lynn) Johnston offered me an opportunity to beta test her new Manuscript Magic course, I dropped everything and rushed to try it.

I’ve always liked her advice, and own lots & lots of her reports & courses.

So… let me tell you about Manuscript Magic.

It’s not often I can give a course (or a book, or anything, really) an unqualified rave review, but that course deserves it.

Yes, it’s $197. If you have fiction ideas, plots, half-baked books, or published books that failed… the course is worth at least twice that.

(Seriously, I expected her to charge at least $350 – $400 for this course. It’s that comprehensive, original, and brilliant. No matter what is wrong with your story, she has at least two or three different ways to fix each area where it falters.)

It’s like a university course. The kind that would take at least a semester, and possibly a full year.

But, you get to work through it at your own pace. Lots of videos. Lots of PDFs. Lots of useful information.

So, if you’re at the point where you have books (or book ideas) and you’re not sure why you’re not finishing the book (or why it got snarky reviews), get this course.

In my opinion, it’s worth eating ramen or pb&j sandwiches for a month, if that’s the only way you can afford it.

I’m not kidding.

Take a look at the course.

And, if you want to see a free sample of one lesson, watch this. It’s a 9-minute explanation of what exposition is, and how to use it (and not use it).

In addition to that, I’ve stumbled onto a few other things that are kind of amazing… for me, anyway.

Horwitz kick-started my editing binge

I mentioned this before: Stuart Horwitz’s Finish Your Book in Three Drafts. (Go read my articlescroll down to “Editing Discoveries” – before buying that or his other book, Blueprint Your Best-Seller.)

His book still seems to be amazingly weird, but his advice was what I needed to hear.

I made some great progress, fixing things that were broken in my books. But then, I stalled. (This was before I took Bonnie’s course.)

Meshing character arcs and story arcs

One thing that continually slows my plotting is trying to mesh character arcs and story arcs. Even before taking Bonnie’s course (the one I talked about, above), I knew that something wasn’t clicking in my brain, in that area of plotting.

Then, Chris Fox posted a related video. It was a huge ah-HA! moment for me. Here it is:

(All of his YouTube videos are very good. I don’t always agree with him, but since his book income – and productivity – are light years ahead of mine, pay close attention to everything he says.)

Anyway, after watching that video, I scrambled to find (and print) Dan Harmon’s advice. You’ll find it here: Story Structure 101.

(That’s the first in a series of how-to articles in a multi-part series. And yes, his language can be NSFW. Combined with how Chris Fox explained this… well, I finally have a clear understanding of how stories can work.)

I strongly recommend it.

With this information, I can see a clear path to relaunching older, failed books, and getting stalled books back on track.

Relaunching = Revisiting categories & keywords

In other news… Dave Chesson’s KDP Rocket software has been updated with some very sweet bells & whistles.

See, I’m working my way through Chris Fox’s Write to Market (again), after getting into his Relaunch Your Novel book. I realized I needed to review his Write to Market research tips, to be sure I was current about book categories and keywords.

So, I turned on my copy of KDP Rocket and – initially – thought my favorite book genre as an absolute no-go. The competition numbers (confirmed with KDSpy) were insane.

That’s when Dave’s updates to KDP Rocket made a world of difference. I found three sub-sub-genres that would work for my books. I can compete for those keywords, and in those sub-categories.

And, since I’m rewriting those books anyway, tweaking them to become exact matches for those sub-sub-genres… well, I can’t quite say “easy-peasy.” However, between Bonnie’s course and Dan Harmon’s plot circles, this actually looks like fun.

(If you know how much I hate rewriting anything, you’ll understand: that’s major.)

So, those are my best, most current tips for fixing failed fiction. I hope they’re helpful.

If you have any questions or suggestions, I hope you’ll leave a comment. I’m always interested in your thoughts on these topics.

WILR – The W Plot

It’s time for another WILR (What I Learned Reading) post.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to write my current book.

Okay, it’s actually a rewrite, but the original book was such a mess, this is almost like writing it from scratch. Again.

But, for the past couple of weeks, I’ve felt like I was spinning my wheels. I knew I was light years better at plotting & characters, but something still wasn’t clicking.

I was afraid (understatement) that the middle of this book would stall, like so many others had. My gut feeling said I wasn’t really ready to overhaul this book.

W PlotAnd then I heard from Lynn Johnston. I’ve bought (and really liked) her past courses. What works for her will usually work for me, too.

Lynn’s new course is about writing with a W plot.

I hesitated. Did I really need yet another course, book — or even another article — about plotting?

I already knew about the W template for plotting. (I thought I did, anyway.) Also, between Martell’s books and James Scott Bell’s Super Structure, I figured I had 90% of what I needed.

Maybe my current ennui — my “gut feeling” — was actually nerves. Plain ol’ cold feet.

But what if it wasn’t? (I spent a lot of time talking to myself about Lynn’s course. It wasn’t just the $27, but the time it would take to watch her videos and then use her worksheets. As Mur Lafferty has reminded me, I should be writing.)

Then, I decided to go for it. I bought Lynn’s course.

Best. Decision. Ever. (Okay, more likely “best decision this month,” but — a year from now — I might decide it’s a “best ever,” after all.)

In Lynn’s first video, I saw my problem. It was kind of massive, and would have sabotaged this book. Again. * facepalm *

Seriously, I can make anything complex. And then I analyze all the little complexities, and fine-tune them so each is a work of art… and totally miss the Big Picture.

Yes, the current book had a fine, workable plot, but the initial trigger — the event that was about to change everything in my heroine’s life — it wasn’t powerful enough. Not even close.

It didn’t have enough momentum to carry the story to its conclusion.

Oh, I had all the scenes figured out. My heroine (and her romantic interest) had plenty of things to do. Things that could be complete scenes. Things with some opposition, to give the plot a little energy. (Emphasis on “little,” now that I reflect on this.)

It just wasn’t a compelling story.

Lynn’s explanation of the W plot showed me exactly where the weakest link was.

(She also showed me that most people — including me — don’t get how the W plot actually works. And how great it is for novellas and short stories, as well as full-length books.)

Wow. Through Lynn’s eyes, I saw the W plot in an entirely different light. A useful one. An important one.

Before I went to bed last night, I’d brainstormed a full, handwritten page of story notes for this rewrite. Mostly, they’re backstory, but they also super-charge the current plot.

This morning, I wrote another full page of notes. Those notes are about the Big Bad and his minions (yes, it’s that kind of story) plus his strengths as well as his Achilles heel.

Next, I reworked the opening scene of my book, plus some key points in the climax. Now, both are far more compelling.

So, I’m writing again and feel really good about this book.

Yes, I still need to finish watching Lynn’s videos, but even this tweak has added tremendous power to this story.

What I learned is: Sometimes, I need to step back and get out of my own way. I need to take a look at the Big Picture, and simplify the plotting process. (I’m sure that applies to other areas of my writing, as well.)

Thanks to Lynn’s course, my story premise is more powerful and I’m not looking for excuses to avoid writing.

In fact, I’ve written this post, stream-of-consciousness. This course has helped me so much, I wanted you to know about it, right away. (Pardon any typos. I rushed through this.)

Mostly, I hope this conveys the importance of Lynn’s The W-Plot, if — like me — you tend to make things more complicated than they need to be.

And now, I’ll go back to my book. And feel good about it.

Illustration courtesy of

Right Brain, Left Brain – Yin/Yang Writing

Before I talk about the creative side of writing — especially creating believable characters — I want to explain my writing process. It might be your process, as well.

Usually, I default to (admittedly archaic) terms like “right brain” for the creative side of thinking, and “left brain” for the analytical, tidy process. But, you could call it yin and yang. Or Bert (analytical) and Ernie (creative), I suppose.

Here’s an illustration, courtesy of

While some aspects of writing come straight out of my creative side (yin), other writing tasks are definitely analytical (yang).

So, here’s how I’d describe writing my writing process:

  1. The spark or idea that leads to a book: it’s from the creative side.
  2. If I’m working on fiction, the brainstorming as I build my story… those ideas are from the creative side, too.  So far, for my current book, I’ve scribbled seven full pages of notes on yellow, lined paper. (If I’m working on nonfiction, the brainstorming is still creative, but more of a connect-the-dots exercise. More of a “what are the questions, and what are the answers?” approach.)
  3. For me, especially when I write nonfiction, the next step is a mindmap to create a tidy, organized plan for my chapters. Clearly, that’s from my analytical side.  (If it’s fiction, I might create a flowchart for each main character. Things like, “When she faces the dragon, does she take out a sword? And, if so, what are the possible outcomes, and which fits best with my story?”)
  4. Then, I finalize my formal book outline. That’s definitely an analytical process.
  5. When I write my first draft…? It creative. And sometimes messy, or even really really bad. I’ve learned to throw that together as quickly as possible. No tweaks. No edits. No proofreading, either. I spill the words onto the page, and hope they make sense to me, later.
  6. Editing follows. That should be analytical, and somewhat merciless. Several best-selling authors have recommended a book I own but haven’t read yet: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. (If you can’t be objective about your writing, hire an editor. Or swap manuscripts with another writer, so you edit each other’s books.)
  7. Rewrites are the next step. They’re creative.
  8. Steps 6 & 7 can be repeated, multiple times. Beta readers may be involved, as well.
  9. Then, publish.


Whether or not this is your writing process, too, it’s important to let your analytical side have the last word.

When your analytical side says your book is “good enough,” PUBLISH IT.

Do not let your vulnerable, creative side insist, “No, it’s not perfect yet! Let’s give this one more tweak!”

(If you need more confidence, I recommend David Lee Martin’s free report, Published is Better than Perfect.)

Likewise, never end your writing process with words that landed on the page while your creative side was still steering the ship.

Editing must always be the final step before publishing.

(That’s “do as I say, not as I do” advice. Every time I’ve rushed to publish a book, thinking my latest creative additions were superb and needed no further editing, I’ve regretted it.)

Why I’m Telling You This

Right now, I’m going through nearly a dozen past books. I wrote some of them over a decade ago. Others are more recent. All of them desperately need improvements, but — until recently — I hadn’t a clue how to fix them.

Thank heavens for a recent “ah-HA!” moment, when I read William Martell’s book, Act Two Secrets. It’s brilliant, and identified a big Achilles heel in my writing.

Then I read Finish Your Book in Three Drafts… While You Still Love It, by Stuart Horwitz. It gave me a step-by-step way to analyze my books and improve them.

I’ll talk about the Horwitz book in a future article. Meanwhile, though I think his concepts are brilliant and they’ve helped me a lot… his writing books swing between boring and so zany I’m not always sure what his point is.

If you’re determined to see what I mean, immediately, start with Finish Your Book…, preferably in print. If you get to the last page and wonder what in Hades you just read, get Blueprint Your Bestseller. The latter will be repetitive and boring, but it explains several points more clearly. Maybe.

If you can get past the boring & zany stuff, I think his approach is pure genius. (And, as I said, I’ll talk about it in a future article.)


About a week ago, I realized why my characters are generally flat and uninteresting. Maybe even unbelievable.

I’d been trying to construct them analytically, with endless “character interview” forms, etc.

That hasn’t worked.

Usually, all of my heroic characters sound like me, and all of my villains sound like Miss Smith, the seventh-grade English teacher who told me (often, and usually in front of the entire class) that I’d never be a writer.

By mid-book, even I am bored with my characters. They’re flat. Often, they’re far too predictable.


But, so far, character interviews have not sparked my creativity. Deciding that my character’s favorite color is blue, and she thinks ketchup is an abomination… that provides quirks but not character.

(If you want to try character interviews, talented author K. M. Weiland has generously shared 100+ Questions to Help You Interview Your Character. Clearly, her system works well for her, and many others.)

I’ve needed a right-brain, yin, creative approach to crafting characters. And that’s what I’ll talk about in my next article.

Meanwhile, take a look at your own writing process. Make sure creativity is in the driver’s seat when you’re coming up with ideas.

And then be sure you’re handing the reins to your analytical side when it’s time to see what works — and what doesn’t — in your first draft, and especially in the final version.

Lost Your Original Kindle Book File? MOBI to HTMLZ to HTML

frustrated-woman-computerQuick tip, if — like me — you can’t seem to find one of your original Kindle book files, and you need to edit it.  (I know that a copy exists, but I don’t have time to weed through all the revised versions for an exact match for what I need, now.)

1. Go to KDP and download the .MOBI file (Kindle preview copy).

2. Open it in the free program, Calibre.  Click here to visit the website.  Convert the file to something you can actually work with — you’ll have several options — and save it (on your hard drive) in that format.

3. Make the changes and save the file.

4. Reverse the process, saving the file in a format that works with KDP.

If, like me, you need to cut-and-paste the chapters into desktop formatting software, these steps — from a process that worked in 2013 — might be useful.

1. Open the .MOBI file in Calibre.  Then, in Convert Books, choose .HTMLZ as your output.

2. Save that .HTMLZ file to your hard drive.

3. Open the folder containing that .HTMLZ file, and rename the file with the extension .ZIP

4. Use any .ZIP utility (your computer probably has one built in, so just double-click on the file name) to unzip and open the file.

5. You’ll see the complete book as an HTML file, inside.  Double-click on that, and it should open in your browser as one, long webpage.

6. Cut-and-paste the HTML file into your writing-and-formatting software, breaking it up into chapters as you go along.

Is it bringing too much code with it?  Open the file so you can View Page Source — in a text editor like Notepad, or an HTML editor like Kompozer — and use find-and-replace to remove “class=calibre 4” (or whatever the extra notation is) and replace all with nothing at all.  (In other words, leave the “replace with” area blank.)

You may have to do that with “class=calibre 8”, and so on, to globally remove all of the extra code.  It shouldn’t take you more than 10 minutes… better than some other options, right?

This worked like a charm for me, copying from the HTML webpage directly to the Visual editor tab in my (now obsolete) WordPress-based formatting software.  The extra code didn’t copy at all… just my original formatting (bold, indents, etc.).

This took far less time than going through a bazillion different saved, revised copies of the book.  (I had one previous version in mind, but didn’t know which it was.)

I hope that helps you, too!