What To Do with That Unfinished Manuscript?

Edited from a previous post circa 2016

If you’re a writer who’s been at your craft for a while, chances are you have several manuscripts that are unfinished. To date, I have several Manuscripts in some sort of “process.”

By that I mean, they have a beginning and maybe even an ending, but they are stuck in the “middle.” But something about them bothers me. They aren’t ready for public eyes. They’ve stalled at about midpoint.

This is a common problem for a lot of writers. It’s the point where your protagonist changes from reactive to proactive. The “midpoint” is when the character and/or plot must change in some way to push the story toward the climax. And, just like in real life, a lot of us get stuck there. We’ve spent so much time developing our character, that changing our “babies” into something they’ve never been before, or have never come against, is a daunting task. But it has to be done for a successful story.

Imagine if the Titanic went around the iceberg…how boring would that be? Or if the closet in Narnia was just full of coats and everyone played dress-up? Or if Dracula was just an eccentric man who lived in a castle? You see the point.

If you’ve been writing for any length of time, you probably have some of those too.

Before you consider the paper shredder or having a bonfire, try something else.

Idea #1 – set it aside for a few months – Reread it, and maybe the flaw will jump out at you. Maybe you’ll realize that Robert couldn’t possibly be the murderer, because you forgot that Sheila murdered him in Chapter 3.

Idea #2 – Pull it apart – Maybe you have one really strong character and the rest are boring and uninspired. Maybe it was a mistake to place Amara the Elf in the same story as Arabella the English House Maid? Hey, it could happen. Maybe Amara is just in the wrong story?

Idea #3 – Research. Research. Research – Maybe you haven’t done enough research on the topic you’ve chosen to write about? Maybe you don’t know as much about ancient basket weaving as you thought you did?

Idea #4 – Setting  – Change the setting. Maybe your lovers shouldn’t meet in the middle of a Western bar fight? Maybe they should meet on the banks of the Thames River, or the jungle of the Amazon?

Idea #5 – Conflict – Is there too much? Maybe there’s not enough? Maybe the conflict is too passive? Maybe you’re being too nice to your main character. Maybe she needs to fall off a cliff, get hit by a car, get thrown in jail, or all three at the same time?

Idea #6 – Dig deeper – Maybe your story isn’t working because you don’t care enough about your main character? Maybe you don’t know her as well as you thought you did. Maybe you need to work on her back story a little more. Maybe you need to find her Achilles heel and kick it…hard. Make her bleed (figuratively or literally depending on your genre) for something, or for someone. If you don’t feel her pain, your audience won’t either.

Idea #6 – Last resort – Shred it – It’s extreme and it’s painful, but maybe it needs to be done (though I don’t recommend it). Maybe the story isn’t working, because there is no story there? Maybe it really is just an “idea?” Maybe you just have the bones of a story, but there’s no meat on them. It’s hard to admit, but it happens.


Whatever the case may be, I would only resort to Idea #6 if you have a strong constitution. I don’t think I could ever destroy my work, not matter how cheesy it is. There’s an audience for it somewhere. Maybe you could include it in your biography when you’re rich and famous? Or maybe an MFA program would want it for a “What NOT to Do…” course?

What have you discovered from reading your old WIPs? This post was for me as much as it was for others. Maybe we could learn together. Feel free to share any hints that have helped you get back on track with your dormant manuscripts.