Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Coping with Middles

I have been trying to think of anything an editor has ever said to me about the middle of my books because, to be honest, middles are where, for me, most of the problems occur.

And while I've had in the double digits of editors over the past 25 years, I can't recall one of them saying anything remotely useful about middles other than Ann Leslie's occasional [delete this?]. The fact is, if I could delete middles altogether, it wouldn't be a bad thing.

Unfortunately readers seem to expect them in books.

Therefore it is my job to figure them out and put them in.

They are, according to Blake Snyder's Save The Cat book and beat sheet, the 'fun and games' part. This makes them sound like they ought to be fun.

They aren't.

Or they aren't fun to write because there is too much to figure out, too many opportunities to either reject or take advantage of, too many options to explore. And in what order???

Do we play volleyball before or after we collect the firewood? Do we explore the mine shaft before or after dinner when the revelation about the hero's first marriage occurs? And why?

That's the key: why?

Because that's what gets you through the middle. Why should we play volleyball now and collect firewood later? Maybe we should just skip the firewood altogether. We could cook spaghetti instead. But then we would be cold and . . . blah, blah, blah. See? Too many options.

Which to choose? And again, why?

And not just the events -- events are easy. It's the emotional connection to each event that's important. What is it about the firewood or the volleyball or the spaghetti that will trigger the hero's emotional angst, that will move him to the next step. Why does it?


Editors, of course, never have the answers to these things. They say what they hope are Encouraging Words and Meant To Be Sustaining Things like, "You'll figure it out."

Of course I will. Eventually. Maybe. I hope.

But it's not easy. Or it isn't easy for me. I have to get inside the heads of these blockheads, er, I mean, characters. and figure out what will work for them.

The next person who asks how long it takes me to 'churn' out a book is likely to get one thrown at his/her head.

Is there an editor who specializes in middles anywhere out there, someone who can say, "Oh, I see. Of course! You just need to do this because then he'll see that that has to happen, and then you do that because he'll need to know she feels thus-and-such, and she will because he will have already told her that blah-blah, and then they'll get to Greece. Simple!"

Absolutely. So if you know of an editor like that, would you introduce us, please?

Preferably before next Monday.

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Blogger Jackie Ashenden said...

Anne, just to say thanks so much for posting such encouraging comments on my blog. Much appreciated. Especially while I'm waiting.

Anyway, I have the same problem with middles. In fact, one of the mss I'm editing now is proving a nuisance because I don't know what to do with the middle! Your post has given me a few ideas though. All comes back to the why questions...

BTW, just finished Antonides Forbidden Wife and I loved it!

10 June, 2009  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

You're very welcome, Jackie. Support is a glorious thing wherever it comes from. We write in caves, for the most part and it's nice to know other people are out there -- even other insane people, like other writers!

I don't know any writer who doesn't have some problem with the middle of their book. If it all flowed easily, everyong would do it. This is the part that separates the ones who finish from the ones who are finished (as in, defeated) by the book. So hang in there. It doesn't get easier, but if you've done it once, you know you can do it again.

Though possibly not by Monday!

10 June, 2009  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Oh, and I'm glad you love PJ's book. Thank you for saying so.

10 June, 2009  
Blogger Rachael Johns said...

Anne - I have to echo Jackie's thanks for this timely post! I'm just heading into the middle of my mss and am already stressing about whether the things I plan to happen actually have any purpose besides padding. You've given me lots to ponder...

10 June, 2009  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Everything in the middle has to have a couple of purposes, Rach. There is an extrinsic purpose for including them and an intrinsic one that will somehow forward the plot both on a 'now we're getting somewhere' level and a 'now we the readers are learning more about what makes these people tick' level AND the characters themselves have to be developing and changing and discovering more about themselves through the plot devices or events we use.

And juggling all that is what makes it so dratted confusing. AND if you change one thing, everything comes down like a pack of cards and you have to rebuild it again from a new starting point.

10 June, 2009  
Blogger Lacey Devlin said...

LOL! Anne you sound like you're in my head.

So many options, which one, which one? But then I could... Why????

Sometimes I wonder if the middles are easier to write if you can turn the little voice of ideas that just won't put a sock in it?

Too many options = me staring at the screen blankly, not blinking. I should probably pay someone to come and put drops in my eyes so I can still see the screen in a couple of years :)

Is there an editor who just needs someone to write the beginning and end?

11 June, 2009  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Lacey, if there's an editor who just wants beginnings and endings, I get first dibs on her!

And I put drops in my eyes all the time. How did you guess?

Good luck with your middle. Mine finally got moving yesterday because of something organic to the story as I changed it. Yippee!

11 June, 2009  

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