Monday, August 09, 2010

Why I don't fear middles

 I think the problem with most writers is that they think of the story as three parts -- beginning, middle and ending.

It isn't. It's a flowing story, and there should be no moment when you suddenly feel as though one part is done and you are entering into something different. That's just setting your brain up to think 'Oh, different. I'm not ready for different!'

Here, however, are some things to consider. Once you have gotten past the part where you have introduced your characters, world and the plot problem, you are in this nebulous 'middle' that everyone hates.

This is really the most fun area of the book
In the middle you get to do all kinds of things. Your characters can make serious mistakes and correct them. They can have a complete loss of faith in their cause and win it back by the time you head into the last chapters. Your antagonist can have big wins, making things all the more difficult for your main character.

The middle is the section where your characters face problems, come to terms with what they want, and move on to the ending where they resolve those problems and win or lose.

Don't let the middle daunt you.

I don't entirely agree with the idea of 'let the story veer' though. It can take different paths, but if you end up with a story that is not what you wanted to write, then it's not going to help. You have to keep the problems that you posed in the start of the book, and trouble along the way, in mind when you reach the final pages. The ending may not be exactly what you first imagined, but it should still link back to the problems that have not been solved from the start of the book, and anything that you left unresolved in that horrible middle section. (grin)

Even if you don't outline, it might help to jot down just a few notes to keep you focused on what you want. Pin or tape them where you can see them as you write. If you come up with an idea that seems to veer too far, check it over carefully. It's likely that it will work with a little tweaking.

Or you might have come up with a better idea than your original thoughts. That often happens while you write. In that case, you need to look back over your opening and see how you can tweak it to fit better, if it needs to be.

However, don't go wandering off on a new path without examining it and studying where it's going to lead. If you keep doing that, you're just going to end up with a lot of disjointed storylines and too much work to make something manageable out of them.

You have a story you want to tell. Write that story. Stick to it and go all the way to the end. Don't take an easy 'oh, I'll do this instead' answer because the easy answers aren't usually the best ones. If you have hit a spot in the story where you are confused or bored, then go back and find out why. Don't automatically scrap your storyline just because it's easier to go in a different direction. That's not going to help you in the long run. It's like all the people who write a few chapters, then hit a problem and leap off to start a different book instead of working the problem out. They aren't learning anything.

If you are writing a romance, your intro is going to bring the two together and set up obstacles for them that stops them from being together immediately. After that, you can introduce more troubles, moments of 'almost got together' only to have something ruin it, etc. Then, at the end, you have to look at everything they faced and find a reasonable way in which all of it can be resolved and the two get together.

In a fantasy or science fiction novel, you might start with an attack on a town. The main character and some companions are introduced through their actions. So might be one or more of the enemies, because faceless, nebulous enemies are not as interesting as someone the reader can see and name. The opening to the novel would likely cover all the actions your main group take in order to survive and get away from the town. After that, they might be on the run, trying to find a way to fight back. The enemy is still after them. This is the area where the main character can make mistakes that might get followers killed. He can have a loss of faith in his ability to help others. He can be pushed to the limits and finally finds that he will push back. After that, the story will start heading towards the ending section and the final confrontation in which everything the character has done, from the very opening until that moment when he faces the enemy again, will come into play. What did he learn when he lost the others? What did he learn when he was pushed too far?

So, my real suggestion is to stop thinking in terms of beginning, middle and ending. Focus instead on the next step in the story, no matter where that stop might fall. What, logically, can go wrong for your main character? What can push him into more trouble that is related to the situation, and how will he get out of it? How can he reach that ending you have in mind, or an ending that will take everything you learned along the way into account and give you (and the reader) something that connects back through the entire story.

1 comment:

Debra Young said...

Good advice; my brain tends to grind to a halt as if it had run into a wall between beginning and middle and middle and end, not to mention the storyline tangles. Happy writing, d:)