Let’s talk about middles. The middles of stories or novels, which I think is the most difficult part of any plot.
For me, I think part of the difficulty lies in having too many options. There are too many directions to take things! Too many choices about when this happens or what causes that or whether to add new characters or stick to just who I started with. Another problem I face when moving the plot past the beginning and into the middle is, I get attached to the setup. If I start a book or a story, chances are I’ve started out writing about a place, a person, a condition or emotion, and/or a situation I find interesting and want to explore. Moving into the middle means shifting away from that, and often, I don’t want to at first – especially if it changes the tone.
I’ve learned that that attachment can be a benefit, as well as an obstacle, because it’s often a good instinct waving its arms at me and saying, “Hey!! Don’t make this shift too abrupt for the reader! Your pacing is going to SUCK if you don’t give ’em something to help them transition here along with the characters!” Now, when I get the pangs of “I don’t wanna move on to the next part!” from my whiny little internal voice, I think, Hmmm. What can I do to make this change feel smoother and more natural? Why does it feel too abrupt? What’s missing? and instead of a bang-head-on-keyboard session, I get to have a brainstorming session instead. Much healthier for the forehead.
The “too many choices” problem, I don’t have a solution for yet – just keep writing and see what happens, or think out the possibilities logically and narrow them down until they’re at least manageable, if not carved in stone. If your decisions for the plot don’t work, it’ll become apparent soon enough…and rewrites are going to be necessary no matter what you do. I console myself by reading the notes of Dostoevsky (one of my writing heroes), who had some of the worst initial ideas for the endings of his books that I’ve ever encountered, and yet the end results of his labors are beautifully written, heart wrenching and heartwarming, and brilliant (although his final endings are still shaky sometimes, I admit (sorry, Dostoevsky)). So my consolation to myself is knowing that if a writer that fantastic had plenty of bad ideas, it can’t be so bad to have bad ideas.
I guess the moral of this post is, write the middle even if you’re intimidated about it, figure out why you’re intimidated about it if you need to, and rewrite it if it doesn’t work out. That’s all you can really do, unless you want to give up. And you’re not a quitter, right? RIGHT??? Good. I thought not.
I have mixed reactions to my first year participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short, NaNo for shorter). For those who are unfamiliar with it, the idea is to write 50,000 words or more in 30 days or fewer. Generally, it’s advised to write at least 1667 words per day (which will get you to the 50,000 goal if you stick to it every day in November).
My preparations for NaNo were woefully inadequate for helping me get through the month’s word count. I know there are some writers who wing it in November and do just fine, but, although I shy away from a strict outline process in favor of spontaneity, I have a lot of trouble holding the middle of a novel together during my first stab at it. Without a clear sense of how things get from point A to point C, my brain goes into a death spiral of doubt, confusion, obstinacy, and just plain childish frustration. Normally, I can take a step back and spend a few days working out the big picture before I have to force the story on toward a conclusion, giving me a chance to regroup, as it were, and find the logic of the next few steps – like looking at the whole chessboard before you make your move.
In the frenzy of NaNo, there was no way I was going to have the leisure to take such a tactical approach – the whole point, as I understand it, of NaNo is to push yourself and trust the process to produce its own results in the long haul of the month. So, I pushed myself and watched to see what would happen. I don’t feel I’ll know exactly how much or how little I got out of the NaNo approach until I start my rewrites (not anytime in the next two weeks, at least, I’ll tell you!) but I will list some of the pros and cons as I see them now, in the immediate aftermath:
+ I have an entire rough draft of a novel that didn’t exist a month ago
– I have a great deal of housework, shopping, and errands to catch up on after neglecting all other aspects of my life for a month
+ I discovered some character vulnerabilities and inner conflicts that I never would have thought of if I’d sat around trying to come up with them, but in desperation to find something to churn out words about, I essentially stream-of-consciousnessed them into existence
+ I found unplanned and unexpected characters and subplots that will contribute a great deal to the main storyline, which if I hadn’t been in a hurry to get a word count out, I would’ve refused to add in out of fear of further complicating an already complicated novel
– I felt mostly like a crazy person through the better part of last month
– This is the worst rough draft I’ve ever written. It’s not cohesive in the least, has almost no middle, and isn’t even in any kind of order. I think I could’ve done a much better job on it if I’d had more time to think it out
+ I have the basics of the entire plot laid out, and I feel like the middle will be much easier to fill in now that I know exactly how the book ends (I wrote the final scene on my last day of NaNo)
+ I feel like a superhero for having accomplished this insane feat!
Looking over those, I think the pros far outweigh the cons, although I doubt I would’ve said that a week ago, in the throes of whiny inner-artiste agony and despair and with almost no food in the house because there wasn’t time to shop and do my word count.
All in all, it was worth a month of feeling sideways, living cooped up in my own head, being out of touch with almost everyone in the world, and never really being able to relax. Yes, it was hard work, and yes, I felt stressed out and at times seriously questioned my sanity and adulthood because of how crappy I felt being stuck at home all the time. But one month of suffering is well worth having a great starting point for a novel I’ve wanted to write for the past twelve years. Not to mention the ego boost of finishing. Ha!