When I was writing my first novel, I was so excited to see my own words on the page that I ended up with several scenes that didn't have much at all to do with the main plot. After I signed with an agent, she pointed out this tendency to wander and had me cut a lot. I mean, a LOT. It was painful to hit the delete key, but I realized she was right. (Click here to read my post on what to do with scenes you cut.)
When you're writing a novel, it's important to always keep the story moving forward. If you go off on tangents that have nothing to do with the plot or aren't going to somehow tie back into it later, your readers are going to get confused or bored, and they may stop reading entirely.
Be careful not to veer too far off course!
I recently finished reading a murder mystery that veered off in several directions with new characters who seemed interesting enough, but then they all disappeared and never wound their way back into the story. When the killer was revealed and the book was over, instead of feeling satisfied, I found myself scratching my head and thinking, "But what happened to that little blonde girl on the side of the road? And why didn't I find out what the deal was with that creepy truck driver guy? And where did that wise old lady from the restaurant go?"
It felt almost as if the author didn't finish writing the book. Having subplots can keep a novel interesting, but they need to keep the overall story moving forward. If they go nowhere, your story goes nowhere, and your readers might end up going somewhere else for their next book.
Maria Murnane is the best-selling author of the romantic comedies Perfect on Paper, It's a Waverly Life, Honey on Your Mind, and Chocolate for Two. She also provides consulting services on book publishing and marketing. Learn more at www.mariamurnane.com.
This blog post originally appeared on CreateSpace.com. Reprinted with permission. © 2013 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.