Thoughts from the Writing Trenches – Part V

Broken teacup art - bruce witzel photoNow is the moment of my discontent – 99,000 words and I’ve reached a part of the novel I always struggle with – the middle. Writing all the characters into the story is challenging but at the same time, vastly rewarding. Writing the end always races away in a flurry of heightened tension, climax and the tying up of loose ends. But this middle section – putting actual words to character arcs, building that all-important tension, foreshadowing what is to come and walking the characters to the climax in ways that make sense – this part is hard work. No other way to describe writing the middle.

For me, creating my first draft is a constant process of zooming in and zooming out. When I get stuck, like I am right now with the middle, zooming out is what is needed.

Geranium inside cabin sunspace, feb. 26, 2017 - bruce witzel photo

I do this by creating lists, tables and maps. I went chapter-by-chapter listing the characters mentioned in each one. I don’t want to lose track of anyone and I don’t want readers to get to know an interesting character, only to have that character disappear then pop out of nowhere near the end of the book. If you’ve ever had this experience as a reader, you know it’s darn disconcerting. Another stepping back task was to create a table linking characters with their storylines, number of point-of-view scenes and how the storylines cross over from character to character. That was a colourful chart. Next came multiple attempts at mind-mapping major themes. I ended up with a simple chart of overarching themes with three subthemes and a few points under each of these. Every storyline can be subsumed within these themes.

Lakeview from the bathroom, March 9-2017 - bruce witzel photo

After those exercises, I felt back on track. How do you find writing in the middle? If you had a preference, would it be beginning, middle or end?

6 comments on “Thoughts from the Writing Trenches – Part V

  1. Gallivanta says:

    With that beautiful view I would have a hard time concentrating on any writing at all. 😉

  2. MariHoward says:

    Coming back into a novel which lost itself last year under other stuff (computer … lodger … etc …),I have found charts, tables, and such enormously helpful. In a list of ‘scenes’ compiled at a late stage of the lists,charts, etc, I then added ‘point of view’ for each scene, and then ‘location’. I Began the charts with looking at the time schedule/periods, downloading & printing out a calendar for those months, and filling in an approximate ‘diary’ including all the characters so I could see who was doing what when, and what others were doing at the same time.I have become a fan of plotting not ‘pantsing’, increasingly as I write more and more … (but we are all different and I know some people just fly by their pants and do well! Happy middle!

    • I’m in the plotter boat with you, Mari. And I find, with every new book, I become more so. The one thing in all the planning that I constantly remind myself of is to listen to that small voice that says – dump this part of the plan – go in a new direction. As long as I know I can still hear that voice, I plan away to my heart’s content. Many thanks for joining in with this discussion and following along with the series 🙂

  3. Roy McCarthy says:

    Yes it’s the hardest part, especially once the initial enthusiasm and energy has slowed a bit. I usually have a mild panic before I start moving the whole thing forward again, maybe with new sub-plots, a new character etc. It’s important, I think, to keep up the tempo, not just marking time before the denouement. Unlike you and Mari ^ I use minimal planning techniques and sort of hope it all comes together. With one exception I think I’ve gotten away with it 🙂

    • I agree with you on the part about keeping up the tempo, Roy. I always try to follow Stephen King’s advice – a first draft should never take more than one season to write. And not too much stopping within the process. Just keep it going. Cheers to the plotters and the pansters 🙂

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