Wednesday, June 27, 2007

That Dreaded Middle

I'm sure there has been a book or two that has captured your interest up front but somewhere in the middle it derailed. The wheels were turning but the story was no longer going anywhere. Perhaps all the questions that had you hooked at the beginning had been answered and no new conflict had been introduced.

Authors dread the possibility that their story middles could turn into a parched desert of wasted chapters.

In my experience, it seems that those authors who write "by the seat of their pants" or who don't map out the pacing of their story are those who are in particular danger of having parched middles.

Authors enjoy giving their characters freedom to develop and grow. It can be rather adventurous when our characters show a surprising characteristic we didn't expect. But what happens when you are 10,000 words into a 90,000-word manuscript and your heroine suddenly blurts out the secret you thought you'd save for the next to last chapter?

There is power in planning. It will help you stay in control of your characters and plot pacing. It can also help you avoid writer's block when you have a plan mapped out. If you just sit down at your computer without a plan and hope your characters show up to perform, you may be sorely disappointed in the show.

Our friend Tracie Peterson is a good teacher on writing the chapter-by-chapter summary before you even start into chapter 1. She recommends that all authors learn to write them -- even if they never get away from the "by the seat of their pants" tendency.

Many an author has missed a publisher's deadline when their story derailed in the middle of writing and they had to rethink where the plot was going. One major missed deadline has the power to wreck your career potential. (Maybe I'll blog about that another day.)

Here's to all those authors who have mastered the middles. Who keep us galloping to the end with refreshing enlightenment along the way.



Mary Connealy said...

Becky, It's like you wrote this just for me. I'm at 30,000 words of my 55,000 word cozy mystery and my story is trying to end itself. I know what I've done. I let the h/h get along too well. I've defanged the murderer. I've let the faith thread resolve itself too easily.
I know how to fix it--back up about two chapters, take back those kind words between h/h, that'll fix about 75% of it. Can't have them being nice to each other, right?
And I also have a ch x ch snop, which I've followed faithfully, except not QUITE faithfully enough. I just really like my h/h and they really need each other. I'm having a hard time keeping them apart. But never fear. I have a ruthless side. I'll go torture those two for just a little longer. And the murderer needs to shake things up, too.
Your post is just the DEFINITION of my book right at this moment.

Beth Loughner said...

Becky, Your post is extremely timely as I sit here at the computer logging onto The Edit Cafe instead of writing, because I don't want to start chapter 4 of my WIP. Seriously, I just stapled together my synopsis and chapter-by-chapter (the pages just keep disappearing) before logging on so I can read through what is supposed to happen in chapter 4. Unfortunately, much of my chapter-by-chapter for #4 happened in chapter 3. Sigh! But not to fear, usually I have too much material and have to back off. Sometimes I'll figure on an event not taking too long, but after editing and rewriting, the exciting event takes on a life of its own and takes over two chapters.

Other times, my exciting chapter-long idea fizzles into one paragraph. I like it better when it takes a life of its own. :-)

Now, inspired by your message, I will attack chapter four and hope my train gets back on the rails and moving again.


Gina said...

Much needed thoughts. I'm heading toward the middle and need to keep this in mind!

Becky said...

Thanks for the comments.

Ever feel that writing is like aiming at a moving target? (grin)


Sally Bradley said...

Not only is my middle a parched desert, it's a sandstorm! I've got a tiny section of the middle where I don't know what's happening, and I'm blindly feeling my way along. It's not fun!

So I think I need to back up, look at my outline, and fill in what happens in this sandstorm hole. Maybe then I'll be able to move forward.