Posted in writing, Exercises

The Middle Bit

When it comes to a story, there’s three main parts to the plot: The beginning, the middle and the end. If you want to get technical, there’s an exposition, rising action, climax and  resolution. Regardless of what you call them, there’s one part that causes numerous headaches.

The middle. Writers everywhere struggle with getting from the opening to the ending.

The Saggy Middle is a common complaint among writers. We’ve all been there. The opening is great! The climax is dramatic. The resolution is perfect.

It’s that bit between the opening and the climax that’s not holding a lot of tension, causing it to feel lackluster and flabby. There’s a couple of reasons that might be, most of them structural in nature.

If you’re a pantser like me, beware of having too many detours in your middle. While it’s easy to wander through a lot of different scenes, make sure you’re taking a look at what each scene is doing for your plot. Do you really need it? If the answer is no, remove it. If it does add something, ask yourself if it’s in the right place: does it make sense in context with only the two nearest scenes? If not, move it to a more appropriate place.

If you’re more of a plotter and you’ve done an outline, then take at the tension in your scenes. If your characters aren’t facing obstacles, then it can seem like you’ve driven them into the climax with no real motivation to change. Take a look at whether or not you’ve got enough obstacles in the way of your characters. If you don’t, look at where obstacles would make sense and consider reworking the specific scenes.

No Idea What Happens Next is another problem with the middle, but it occurs most often in the actual writing process of an early or rough draft. You might know how to start the story, and you might know where it ends. What happens in between can be a bit fuzzier.

In this case, try making a list of things that could happen. They don’t need to be an outline, or even logical–just start listing things your characters could do. Let your inspiration wander freely down this list. Remember you can come back later and take out anything that doesn’t fit.

Once you have a list of at least five things, set a timer for fifteen minutes and write a scene as if each of those things is what happens next. Which ones are you more inclined to keep writing on?

 

Posted in General, writing

On Shifting Mindset

Not every part of the creative process is enjoyable. It’s certainly a lot more entertaining to daydream about the six-figure deal you’ll get, or the contract for an original show you sign with Netflix than it is to go back through your manuscript for the hundredth time trying to hunt down out of place commas or lurking filler words. While those tasks may not be enjoyable, they are necessary. Thankfully, there’s something to be said about having the right attitude to approach something.

How you think about something can have a vast impact on how you feel about it. Rather than focusing on how much you dislike doing a particular part of editing, think of how easy it is to get done. Alternately, remind yourself how much it’s going to improve your writing and your story. By shifting your thoughts from the negative ‘dislike’ of the task at hand and onto the postive aspects of it, you’re also shifting your feelings. This won’t mean you necessarily enjoy searching for every instance of ‘that’ or sprucing up your descriptions, but it will make it less of a chore.

Another way you help change your view on something is to adjust your enviroment accordingly. These don’t need to be huge changes either. If you can work with music on, try putting on tracks that are upbeat and exciting. Music has been shown to affect your mood, so having something that cheers you up and energizes you can help make a daunting or tedious task go a little easier. If you find sound distracting or need to work on your focus, try a scent such as lavender or lemon to help calm and focus your thoughts. This might make distractions less tempting and help you ward off procrastination.

What are some ways you make difficult tasks easier?

Posted in General, writing

On Rewriting

Currently in my writing projects, I’m knee-deep in a rewrite. In this instance, I’m talking about completely scrapping the initial drafts and notes and starting over again. I’m keeping the characters and the basis for the conflict, but everything else has been moved to the ‘junk’ folder. In a lot of ways, as much as rewriting is a significant part of my process, it’s also the most frustrating.

There are multiple reasons for needing to rewrite something. Perhaps the plot makes too many illogical leaps. The characters might not have solid motivations, or they lack development. Maybe the setting creates problems. Individually, the problems might be solved by rewriting one or two sections. The main reason I’ve found for needing to rewrite an entire manuscript is because the problems have all added up to need multiple different sections rewritten.

As I mentioned however, it’s frustrating. The idea itself may be good, but the execution and the work already put in may not be enough. Having to throw out the time and effort I’ve already expended to start over can give doubt a reason to creep in.

In some ways it’s a good thing. Rewriting gives me the chance to explore the story again, to find new places to look for mystery and wonder. It also gives me the opportunity to bring an old idea up to par with my current skills. Although it doesn’t always help, reminding myself that a rewrite is just another opportunity to learn can curb some of the frustration stemming from needing to start over.

How do you handle rewriting?

 

Posted in General, writing

Outlining Methods

One of my least favorite tasks when I’m getting ready to start editing is creating an outline. As much as I know they’re useful and will help me create a better draft, they take time to create. The most important thing about an outline is that it is only a tool. Regardless of how or even when you create an outline, they are incredibly useful and can help you structure your novel.

And, the beautiful part about outlines is that much like the writing process itself, there’s a variety. If you’re more of a discovery/pantster/garden writer (like me!) you might find writing an outline beforehand kills your story. You can save it for later. If you need a structure to keep you on track without boggling down the details, there are methods for that too. If you’re happy creating an outline before you start on Chapter One, then you have your pick of outline flavors based on your needs and preferences for a story.

If you have trouble with breaking your story down into chapters, it might help to use a synopsis. Because the synopsis is all of the events that happen in a story, it can be useful if you have the premise and the characters, but need some guidance on the plot itself. Bonus point for the synopsis: you’re more than likely going to need to write one at some point, especially if you’re planning on traditional publishing. Most synopses are summaries of the scenes and dialogue.

Another summary-like method is often called the flashlight method. I’ve also see this occasionally referred to as the ‘traditional’ method. In essence, you create one or two sentences for each chapter or story section. You can use the Hero’s Journey or the traditional plot structure known as Freytag’s pyramid if you’re not sure where your chapters are. The flashlight method flexes well enough that you can dedicate entire pages to each section, or keep it all on index cards.

If detail is a large priority for you, consider an expanding outline such as the snowflake method. With the snowflake method you start with a single sentence and simply keep expanding until you’ve reached the level of detail you want. If you choose to use the original form of this method (created by Randy Ingermanson) it can be very work-intensive but steps you through everything from character arcs through to plot and into early scenes.

The final method I want to cover is the mind map. This is a fantastic thing for brainstorming. You start with your core premise and began mapping out the parts that branch off from it. This includes things like your Main Character, who then has branches out for his goal, his motivation, his flaw. It might also include your main conflict and how it connects to your Main Character and your antagonist. This doesn’t follow any structure, so be warned that it may not give you a clear-cut plot line.

Regardless of what you use to outlines, keep in mind that these are organizational tools. As your story develops and changes, you might find yourself needing to revisit and revise your outline.

Posted in Exercises, writing

NaNo ’18: Day 15 (Readjusting)

Part of the challenge of NaNoWriMo is that lofty goal of 50,000 words. It’s a stretch and a challenge for many of us. In some cases it might seem impossible. Fifty thousand words is a lot, especially to push out in one month and most especially when faced with other challenges of social lives, health, paying the bills. 

The good news however, is that now, halfway through the month, is a good time to consider the options you have and whether or not you need to readjust your daily goal. Although the daily goal is 1,667 words, that’s not always something we can feasibly manage. Instead, take a look at the days you know you have free to write, and how many words you still have left to get down. Where can you devote extra time to writing? Where do you know you’re going to take a hit on time?

Readjusting your timeline and goals isn’t a bad thing. That ability to flex and adapt is after all, something that humans have used to survive for thousands of years. So use it now to help you survive NaNo. Readjust, adapt. Recognize that you’re not out of the running yet and keep going. Even if you don’t make that grand goal of fifty-thousand words, you’re still making progress. You may just have to readjust where you’re aiming for.