Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Pick a spot, any spot

Based on some discussion we've been having and a post here I've been wondering: Which is worse?

Starting a piece where you are making all those decisions about tone and voice and characterization and theme and setting and trying to figure out how and where all those elements will intersect to produce exactly what's in your head screaming to get out?

Or is it the muddle in the middle, which seems to be a never-ending slog where all the decisions you made in that beginning rush of excitement and enthusiasm are being chucked out the nearest window with frightening regularity as you realize nothing is working for you or the story at all.

Or is it the mad dash to the finish line where you are simply too exhausted and bereft of time and/or thought to do anything but scribble the end even though you're pretty sure that's not the way you saw it and are wondering why, given the cost of it all, you ever thought this was a good idea.

And at what point is enough enough? At this point I'm really not sure. How about you?


  1. I'm stumbling down the path of first novels, so my reaction to your question reflects where I find myself in that project... I think the middle is hard to muddle through. I have a basic plot arc outlined, but the deeper into the story I go and the more challenges I put before the characters, the more surprised I am at how they're reacting. I keep wondering, who's writing this story, anyways? LOL The plot keeps changing directions; I'm looking forward to finding out what happens at the end!

  2. Thank you for being here. And congratulations on the first novel. That’s exciting, as is the changing plot. :)

    You’re right. The middle is a difficult place to be. It sounds like you are a character driven writer, another discussion, which is the type of writer I am. Characters can react in very strange ways and at the most inopportune times. And they can surprise you.

    You write the story. But I really think that if you’ve done your prep well and listen to your characters, you will have an honest story that’s respectful of not only all of you, but your readers as well.

    Good luck with the writing.

  3. I think for me, starting a piece is always the hardest because in the middle the characters take over and at the end, well, after the climax, you just lay back, smoke your cigarette and say "thank god that's over with".

  4. I totally get that and I'm right there, right now. 5k in and I'm already really second guessing my choices. I can't even settle on a tense and keep wildly swinging between them in different sections.

    And that's not even the big stuff like scenes I have notes for and whether or not I should just pitch them now and get it over with.

    well, after the climax, you just lay back, smoke your cigarette and say "thank god that's over with".

    Exactly. :) True that.

  5. Every once in awhile I come up with a good line. Maybe I'll use it someday.

    Don't worry about tense, or swinging, or any of that, just write baby, get it all down. Everything comes out in the wash and besides, that's what first drafts are for. You should have seen the mess MASQUERADE was in when I first started. I had to change people's names, and tense, good Lord, everyone had a different one. Don't worry about any of it. Just write the story as it comes out of your head. Once it's down, you can change it any way you want. The secret is to get it down.

  6. Thanks. I know you're right. I think I'm just looking for a way to procrastinate as I suspect the story may be fatally flawed.

    I'm also as freaked out by success as I am by failure. I was pretty happy with my first novel. This is the sequel to that, so I'm really feeling pressure to live up to what I thought was good about that.

    Anyway, I'm hoping my nerves settle because I really do know that in the end, it all sorts itself out.

    I'll keep you in mind as my shining example. :)

  7. The middle is the most difficult for me. I can usually get something started--I have characters in my head, maybe a sentence and and introductory scene. Often, I can see the possible last scene of the piece. It's all the middle that kills me--how do I keep the energy going?

    I tend to write a lot of multi-character/multi point of view stuff so getting all those threads to loop together in the middle, and to keep track of it, and to make it coherent...Whew.

    I never seem to get past the middle.

  8. The muddle in the middle is a rough slog. All the energy and enthusiasm you had at the beginning is gone in the mess you have seemingly made with all your words. And the end isn't anywhere in sight.

    It's endless terrain and having multi-character/multi-POVs going on just makes it that much more difficult. Maybe we need better ways of camouflaging our time in the middle so that we're not so aware of it. Until we're past the dead zone and on our way to the finish line.

    But it's hard not to count words.

    Obviously I have no answers.

    But I would love for you to get past your middle so that I can have something to read.

  9. Wow...talk about being timely. I can't even start writing until I have the beginning fairly nailed down, and along with the beginning comes a general idea of the end, although sometimes the route is strange and the final scene doesn't look the same as it presented itself originally. But that's part of the organic nature of writing.

    Right now I am still in the middle of the novel, although I was sure I'd be in the back third by this time. The middle hasn't really muddled so much as expanded...which is ironic, a middle-aged spread for a middle-aged novel? ;) But it's at that point where I have to break the flow and go back and cross-check details and re-read, because this time I'm working on a long piece without an outline at all, and it's a little uncomfortable because it's hard to judge the pacing.

    That's the worst part about the middle... is it on pace? or is it running downhill on roller skates totally out of control?

    And yeah, like you said, it's endless terrain and insecurity and doubt, until you finally just press on with the mantra, clean it up later, clean it up later, clean it up later...like a recalcitrant teenager on a Saturday morning.

    And btw, who the heck ARE all these additional characters that appeared the last couple of chapters? The writer is always the LAST to know.

  10. Without question, the middle is a terrifying place to be…

    Once you're past the hurdle of the beginning - that first, thrilling step into a new "adventure" - and when the end is fairly clear in your mind, you often discover you can't find your way from "here" to "there" because the ground is hidden by fog and suddenly you can't see where you're going. And when the "inner editor" starts pitching in, it can paralyze you…

    That's why I agree when you say that once you've been honest and respectful to your characters, you can always count on them to shoulder part of the burden and help you get along on the road. Without their voices whispering in our ears, from time to time, we could be rooted forever in the same spot.

    Now that I think about it, it's very similar to a symbiotic relationship….

  11. Hey, CW. Welcome and thank you for stopping by.

    I think that’s it exactly. Nailing down the tone and the myriad other elements that go into getting it all off to a solid start isn’t only necessary for me and the beginning, but sets the tone and the general route to the end. It may twist and turn, a lot, but the end has to be an honest outcome of the beginning.

    You make an excellent point about the organic nature of writing and the work the process produces. In good writing, the growth of stories and characters is organic. That doesn’t mean it simply appears out of nowhere, but is the result of careful cultivation along the way.

    a middle-aged spread for a middle-aged novel

    I totally understand this and it’s a great way to put it. The middle just somehow takes over. And it does beg questions about pacing, because that is very difficult to judge when you’re still unsure where and what the end will be/look like.

    So we’ll just go with the whole mantra thing and chant together.

  12. Yep, Nym, you’re right. We don’t do well with the in-between.

    I know how much you value honesty and respect for characters and story when you write. And you’re right. Allowing your characters that allows them to help you with the process of storytelling.

    They whisper in our ears rather than scream us stupid.

    And that allows organic storytelling and growth and movement.

    Very much a symbiotic relationship.

  13. This hits a really resonant note, maybe because what I'm working on is not only character-driven but relationship-driven, which has really taken me by surprise.

    "Very much a symbiotic relationship."

    That's brilliant, and I've never thought of that before, how there's a definitive sense of relationship between writer and work. Maybe that's why we are sometimes so protective of our creations.

  14. Nym really is brilliant. :) And right much more often than not. I think that’s true here.