Friday, June 27, 2008

Muddle through the Middle

Tip of the day: If you have on-line grocery service in your area, order it BEFORE you go on vacation to arrive AFTER you get home. It's one less thing to do when you get home!

So, welcome to part-two of my three part blog series on beginnings, middles, and endings.

Today we are talking about the middle. Some of you may know it better as the %*^*# middle.

Yes, the sometimes mucky, sometimes miserable, hardly ever mesmerizing, middle.

Why do authors often get lost in the middle of writing the book? I think it can be for a number of reasons.

1) They have no idea where they're going.
2) They know where they're going but don't know how to get there.
3) They don't have a clear idea of what the book is really ABOUT and what is really driving the story.
4) They haven't clearly defined what the main character WANTS.
5) The excitement has worn off and the negative self-talk starts, making it more and more difficult to just keep writing.

So what do we need to remember in the middle? Again I'll refer to the book, THE WRITER'S GUIDE TO CRAFTING STORIES FOR CHILDREN, by Nancy Lamb. (If you haven't figured it out by now, this is a pretty good book and has some really helpful information in it).

In a story, there should be a "central plot point that propels the hero from beginning to end, from one scene to the next, from one act to the next." In screenwriting, they call this the 'Throughline.'

Some screenwriters think of the Throughline as the embodiment of the main character's conscious desire."

Now here is the good part, so listen up - "Somewhere at the closing of the second act of a screenplay, or the end of the middle of the book, the character's conscious desire breaks down. What he wants is denied him, either by choice or by the force of outside circumstances. This breakdown exposes a deeper motivation that propels the character forward, a motivation he was originally unaware of. This thirst--this force that motivates the hero and drives the action--becomes a secondary, but equally powerful, Throughline."

If you're having trouble with your middle, perhaps you need to stop and think about what your character really wants, and what obstacles are getting in his way, and what motivations come out as a result of those obstacles, revealing perhaps an even deeper motivation. Sometimes this may be an external desire versus an internal desire. He wants to build a treehouse to have a place of his own, but WHY does he want a place of his own?

Finally, if you aren't an outliner in general, it can be very helpful to stop about 1/3 of the way through the book you're writing, and plan out where the book is going. In the past, when I've gotten lost in the middle, it was usually because I didn't have a good map and had taken a wrong turn a ways back. So, I turn around, delete a bunch of pages, take notes so I'll have a better map on the next trip, and I start on the journey again.

Happy traveling!

~Lisa, Miss Pinch Me I'm Pubbed


Emily Marshall said...

EXCELLENT advice Lisa. I love your writing series!

Kate Fall said...

I second the love. I'm really enjoying the series.

I've always liked playing with "what my main character thinks he/she wants at the beginning of the book isn't what he/she wants at the end of the book," but it's hard to pull off. This tip will be great for revising: where is the breakdown and switch to a new motivation?

My word verification is like 12 letters long! I must look particularly untrustworthy from cyberspace today.

DeenaML said...

Lisa, you hit this muddy middle point really well. I have definitely had bad middle probs bc of the reasons you listed -- and an additional one: adding a new plot point that doesn't relate to the original plot, but I just like it so I throw it in and it muddles the middle.

Lisa Schroeder said...

Thanks you guys. And you're right, Kate, it really is hard to pull off. And it doesn't even work in every single book, but I think it's something to keep in mind.

amuse me said...

I'm starting to think ending is my most difficult part -- I don't want it to end. So I'm looking forward to your thoughts on endings.

Rachel Hamby said...

Great tips, Lisa. Thanks for doing this informative series. I just put Nancy Lamb's book on hold at the library.