Monday, November 16, 2009

Middling Mayhem

I’ve decided that book middles maybe should just be called Muddles… I had DAYS that I would write a scrap here, write a scrap there and just feel like I was making no progress whatsoever… then I made a Facebook comment about it and discovered, lo and behold… some people LIKE them! So I thought I’d explore the topic farther…

Reading Middles

Let me be clear… I NEVER EVER skip ahead. I read every word and love it, but no matter HOW good the book, there is a part of me that is saying come on come on come on… get to the part I know is coming! (I am similarly greedy faced with abs like these… I can REALLY love them, but frankly… mostly just because of the indicator they give of the good stuff… knowwhatImean?) EVEN if after the fact I look back and LOVE the middle, I STILL am eager to get to the final action sequence and see how things go. It is what propels me forward. Books that don’t do that for me, I can still read, but I don’t enjoy them nearly as much.

Does that mean the middle could just not be there? NOT AT ALL. Without the middle, I wouldn’t get all that sweet anticipation, which is the part I ACTUALLY love so much, and a well written book drops hints and details (LOOK at the six pack!) through there that make the ending a fabulous wind up of tons of details!

I think my love of anticipation actually feeds the fact that I like LONG books so much better than short ones. I crave that anticipation (seriously… on so many levels). I would NOT be a person who preferred longer books if there wasn’t something truly compelling about the middle, would I?

Writing Middles

Unlike my buddy Stacy, who sees middles like the scrumptious frosting of the oreo—savored and enjoyed, I see them more like the broccoli, which I never start with, because I can’t face it first, but I wouldn’t end with either, because I want something better to be the end note of my dinner…

I think this is hardest because the middle is what I don’t know before I start… even if I have a broad plan, the middle has gotten the least thought. In a normal book session, I can write the beginning and plot my points, and then wait for this connector or that connector to form more fully. With NaNoWriMo though, I can’t skip to a different project entirely for a couple weeks. I need to make progress on THIS project.

So here is how I handled it:

Diagnosis of what was causing the problem: I have two sort of parallel story tracts running—a physical running/keeping safe, and an emotional exploration via psychological counseling (though Phil is considerably more handsome and compassionate that Freud). The LATTER was the part that kept causing trouble (damn psychotherapists), partly because the pacing of it needs to match the action, and the therapy progress kept going too fast and bumping my other plot too much.

Decision to just write the OTHER half for now: I’m not completely skipping it, but I’ve decided to concentrate on the physical journey first, then come back and insert the emotional journey as it most closely runs parallel to the physical one. I think it will allow for the best overall story.

That said, the decision, once I made it, has freed my characters… they’ve gone on the run again… there is about to be a conflict BETWEEN them (all prior conflicts are them together versus external forces) so I think it should up the ante for my action and will set up the breakthrough of the final action sequence, so I am excited once again about my NaNo project.

A Further Look

When I made my facebook comment and a few people mentioned loving middles, I decided maybe it was a genre thing… the two who specifically mentioned loving them write romances… well romances it seems, go meet, resist, give in, conflict, resolve, back together… or something like that… I can totally see where the ‘give in, conflict, resolve’ would be the most exciting portion of that story.

I tend to write something that borders on suspense or thriller, and THAT cycle is more circular, with each sweep having a slightly higher stakes tension. I think the HARD part is coming up with and building to the next tension, then once it is started, that cycle goes smoothly and you get back to the same spot. Now normally, I have maybe 60% of my cycles set, but have a couple where I have to fly by the seat of my pantsless…. This story though, it is more an issue of trying to match the psycho/emotional tensions to the physical tensions. I want to keep them similarly paced and that was getting difficult.

So I’d love to hear if others like to read/write middles and what genre they do both in… trying to see if I’m onto something or just talking out the side of my keyboard…


Terry Odell said...

I don't have trouble with middles -- it's getting the beginning and ending down that causes me the most grief. My first writing mentor told me I write a beginning, a middle, more middle, and more middle.

For me, the middle is where it's all happening. I write mystery and romantic suspense (that's the genre's definition; I call them mysteries with romance). I've written some straight contemporary short stories as well.

Tundiel said...

I find the middle bit VERY hard to do. Using my NaNo as an example, I had a ton of stuff I knew had to be at the beginning, and I know exactly how the ending is going to work, but the middle? I realised last week that the only reason I was stumped was because I had a plot gap roughly the size of 15,000 words to fill.

Of course, I don't generally write in this genre (chick-litty stuff, quirky romance), so that hasn't helped. Having said that, I usually suffer the same problem no matter what genre I am writing.

So, even though I like the look of that siz pack, I pretty much don't like middles at all...