Hi you guys! Today (writing this post in advance so today is actually the twenty-ninth of May) I'm taking a break from my regularly scheduled plotting and outlining to talk to you about my Achilles Heel in writing...the dreaded middle portion of the novel.
I'm pretty lucky when it comes to my own writing, ideas almost always come to be with a clear beginning and ending in mind. Its the middle that always dances off just out of reach. So I'll sit down, write the beginning, do some half-baked summary of the middle and write my ending because, you know, there is always time to fix the middle portion in editing. Unfortunately editing can only do so much. I mean, you can't edit what isn't there. And there isn't usually much of anything there.
Obviously this is no way of getting my name on a bestseller's list...unless you guys like that sort of thing, skip out the middleman literally. It would make for faster reading but poor storytelling in my opinion. So obviously I needed to find a way around that, I couldn't just be a spur of the moment writer anymore because I just wasn't finishing anything that way. I had to plan.
And let me tell you that is a lot harder than it sounds. Do you guys know how many different methods of planning there are? Zillions! Most of which I've learned through my years in the NaNoWriMo forum. Notecard method, snowflake method, character profiles, etc. I've tried tons of them, unfortunately none of them really worked out for me.
I was on my own.
Now, I'm not saying that I'm the first person to ever plan this way (or the last!), but this is the form of planning I came up with that works for me.
Remember these handy little things from elementary school? Bubble maps, or spider maps are what they are usually called. This is how my planning starts. Not quite like the one presented but it was a decent representation and I thought it might refresh your minds. I put my title (Did I mention I almost always have one of those on hand? No?) in the center and the following items branch off: Major Characters, Main Plot Points, Subplots, Setting, Minor Characters, World-Building. As ideas come to me, as I ponder these things I make little branches off from them and add them in. Usually I fill at least one paper up with these, often front and back.
Then its time to do the dreaded Outline, savior of the Middle Portion of my novels.
I do these old-school too. With the assortment of Roman Numerals (Which just for humors sake I'll tell you I constantly have to look up. Why was I never taught these in school???), Numbers and the Alphabet. Each Roman Number is a chapter title, then the next line is for major events, with the lines following details for said events. Everything from my bubble map gets translated on to the outline.
Then comes the hard part. I've already written everything I KNOW, now its time to learn and ask myself the tough questions...literally. When it comes to planning out a middle portion of a novel, which is basically the point we're at now, its all about cause/effect. Typically I know my effects, I know how things need to go. So I question the causes. What needs to happen to get from this point to the next? How can I make that happen? What do I need my characters to do?
Not always as easy as it sounds. When I struggle I flip through my favorite books, how did these authors handle similar situations? How did they manipulate the plot? Its all about logic. Remember, the difference between reality and fiction is that the fiction has to make sense. Figuring out all of these logistics takes time, a middle is not built in a day. It lags. It happens. Another nifty trick to help is to do quick writes (Wow, my outlining process really harkens back to elementary school, doesn't it?). I just start typing out the event, typing out every thought relevant that pops into my head, often through this free writing I develop the solution I was looking for.
So that's my way of working through a hard-to-reach middle, for those of you that write, how do you find your way? Did anything in my method help you out?