Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Middle Muddle

by Joyce
Annette wrote yesterday that she hates writing the first chapter. I have the most trouble with the middle chapters.
When I’m in the middle of my manuscript, I spend more time deleting scenes than I do writing them. I’ll be happily pounding away on the keyboard. My protagonist and one of the other characters will be chatting away, having a grand old time, then suddenly I’ll realize that absolutely nothing happened.
That’s not good. Especially if I want someone to actually buy the book someday.
Select. Delete. I could do it in my sleep.
When I hit the middle of the book, I write by the Two Steps Forward, One Step Back method. (Note that it’s not the same as one step forward, two steps back. I’d end up with negative pages in that case.) For every couple of pages I write, I have to trash one.
But doing it that way is easier for me than pounding out the whole draft, getting to what I think is the end, and then figure out six chapters from the middle have to go. All of a sudden I only have two-thirds of a book. As much as I complain and refer to my WIP as THAT F*&$#*G BOOK, it’s the only way I can work.
The other problem I have is my tendency to be too nice to my protagonist. In real life, I hate conflict. Most of the time I go out of my way to avoid it. Well, at least I did until I hit that certain age. Catch me in the midst of my own personal heat wave and all bets are off. (But that could be a whole separate blog post.) Anyway, I always have to go back and make things more difficult. In my last book, I killed off a character who was very close to my protagonist. Let me tell you, it was like a death in the family. I’m not a weepy kind of gal, but I cried like a baby. I keep the c-word—CONFLICT—taped to my laptop as a reminder. I probably say “conflict on every page” in my sleep.
My goal is to have my first draft finished by the end of July. So far, I’m on track. If I make it through the middle, that is.
Most writers seem to have at least one part of their work they struggle with. What are your techniques for muddling through the tough parts of your book? Do you have a hard time making life difficult for your protagonist? Tell us your secrets for pulling it all together!


PatRemick said...

I find it rather comforting to know others use the 2 step forward, 1 back method. But it is SO HARD to delete those paragraphs you've spent hours over... then realize the story will go merrily along --and better -- if they are destroyed. I think I'm spending too much tinkering, though, before daring to finish the middle -- and the end.

Jennie Bentley said...

Gosh, you guys are so... thinky about all this stuff. I basically just pound on the keys until I have the word count I need plus about three thousand, and then I go back to the beginning and start tweaking. That said, I do edit throughout. If, at page 164, I come up with a brilliant idea for something I didn't actually plan for back on pages 22, 57, and 121, then I go to those pages and put my foreshadowing in before I go forward. My aim is to write one first draft, and when the story's down on paper (or screen), then the story is there, in its entirety. The basic story - I have to add some of the frills later - but ideally I want the whole thing to hang together.

The middle tends to be hard for me. It's when the flush of the beginning is over, when I'm all agog and excited about the idea and what can happen, and before the end, when things get going so fast toward the climax that my fingers can't always keep up with my head. The middle just sort of drags sometimes. Like right now.

There's only one thing to do with it, though, and that's to get through it. So I put 1,000+ words on paper every day. They're not always good words, and sometimes they have to come out later, but they're there, and if there are words, then there's something I can work with. If the page is blank, then I'm a day behind. Always move forward.

Joyce said...

One thing I didn't mention is that as soon as I figure out what isn't working and get rid of it, the writing comes so much easier. If I try to force a scene to keep going just because I like it, I'll be stuck on it for days on end.

I trashed a whole chapter last week because it went nowhere. There was some great dialogue, but it didn't do anything to advance the plot. I've written 2 chapters since then.

ramona said...

This is when an understanding of the Three Act Structure can be helpful.

The Stiffs have been working so hard on writing this week! I applaud you.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Joyce, I think if you polled all the writers of Genre Fiction, the majority would agree with you about the middle being their demon.

I guess I've said it before, I think I'm a left-brain guy. That seems to be unusual in this business. Mostly it seems to be dominated by that right-brain creative group.

But I think I'm pretty good at plotting and laying things out in a logical way. So when I start thinking about a book, I usually start with the big picture, I roughly know the begining, middle and end, at least plotwise. I think about a scene before my fingers touch the keyboard and I know what I'm going to write, again, plotwise.

I think I lucked out on my first novel since the first draft was 105,000 words (pretty much centered for a Thriller.) The secnod MS looked like it was coming up short, but a very cool twist struck me as I approached the right spot and it ended up at 105,000 words. (Magical, huh?)

While I don't necessarily struggle with the writing in the middle, it's somewhere around that 60% mark where I may lose some enthusiasm and have to push myself to continue on.

For me, I still think writing a great ending that wraps everything up the way you want it is not as easy as typing THE END. I think I rewrote my endings more than any other section.

My current WIP is heating up in my mind. I wrote the first two chapters in two days. I've had to shelve it because of the wedding and other personal things. That doesn't mean I'm being unproductive, because I'm still plotting and jotting down notes. But right after the wedding I'm getting back to typing.

Annette said...

Thanks, Ramona, for pointing out the Three Act Structure. When I'm outlining, I may not plug in all the details of what's going to happen, but I do plan a twist at the end of the first act, another one at about midway, and one more biggie leading into the final act. Those plot points keep things moving and changing.

There's also that old gem about when things start bogging down, drop another body.

Joyce said...

Dropping bodies is always good. Well, in fiction, anyway.

Gina said...

Joyce -
I've noticed how much easier the writing gets after deleting one of those wrong choices, too. In some ways, it feels like hand sanding plaster - the more of those little lumps you grind out, the smoother the sander moves. You just have to be careful not to sand too much in one place and leave a depression.