Monday, June 13, 2016

The Middle of Nowhere

A popular post from September 2011

I live in the literal middle of nowhere. Getting to my house is one of those experiences where you start out thinking about how fun the road trip is going to be. You take off with your snacks, and your drinks, and your awesome music you can sing along with. But once you leave the freeway and enter the highway, things feel less promising than they did when you took off. You're moving slower because the speed limits are so incredibly lamely LOW, and sometimes you get stuck behind semi trucks who make the lame low speed limit look like Nascar, and the scenery doesn't feel like it's changing. It's more of the same thing over and over and over. And sometimes you get stuck out there in the middle--due to cattle or sheep, or rolled semi trucks (it happens). Sometimes you get stuck for a long time and it totally bites because there isn't even any cell service.

People show up at my house and come panting in my living room and plopping down on my couch with great exclamations of how they NEVER thought they would get there.

I get them a drink and lament American highways with them because it's the right thing to do. It really is a long drive--necessary for me, but long.

Writing feels similar sometimes.

You get this great idea--this epic, amazing, you-can't-believe-the-idea-actually-came-to-you idea, and you take off, writing furiously. You've got your snacks, your drinks, your best writing music, and you are so excited about what you're working on, you can barely keep the grin off your face. You know that the ending of this work will be colossal, amazing. You're thrilled with how fantastic the destination of the end of your book will be for readers of all ages. You are going to change the world.

Until you find yourself in what feels like the two-lane-highway-stuck-behind-a-semi-truck part of your book.

Welcome. You've now reached the middle.

And you start to doubt.

Is this really where you wanted to go anyway? What's so great about reaching "the end?" Maybe that beginning was the mistake. Maybe you took a wrong turn somewhere . . .

So instead of writing, you rearrange your pen collection, get up for a different snack--you were sick of chips anyway and realize carrot sticks might be healthier. You punch some buttons on the remote control to see what might be on.You call your friends and see about going to a movie, but they're busy writing--jerks, and then you decide that health is overrated, and you wanted ice cream instead.

There are some things you can do to pass the semi--clear the flock off the road, and get back to the freeway that will take you where you want to go.

Are you bored? If you're bored, I promise, your reader is too. If that's the reason the middle's slowing down, then you might want to insert some action, some peril, something that incites your characters and your readers. Put them in danger, make the girl lose the guy, have the murderer strike again while the detective is still scrambling with clues. Make something happen that propels the action and the plot forward again.

Does your character not have clearly defined goals so your characters are kind of wandering around in the misty middles of nowhere because they're not sure what to do next? if this is the case, go back and find something your character desperately wants or is desperately passionate about. That is the goal. Keep them moving toward the goal, which will help move them away from the middle and closer to the end. Make sure the goal is big enough that the readers will care if the goal is achieved. If the quest is merely for a pint of ice cream--you might not be able to get the reader to follow the journey to the end. Make it riveting enough to hold your attention.

Make sure your antagonist has a clear goal too. No one is evil just for the sake of evil. They have things they want and are trying desperately to achieve.

I have a tendency to get lost in my manuscripts about page 60, and then again at page 120. But I've always found that it's because I've lost sight of the goal or failed to keep the action and plot moving. Middles don't have to feel like the boring nowheres they sometimes seem to be. Take the scenic route and turn your music up louder. And remember to have fun with it!


Blue said...

How did you KNOW?!

I got half-way through your post and thought "Is Jules reading my diary?!" ;-)

Thanks for the insights and tips. I heart you. (ps: still have "hartman" in my cellphone for you ;-) )

Botanist said...

I love the analogy. I don't have a statistical sample to play with (only one novel completed) but think I avoided the slump in the middle by teleporting myself all over the place.

Whenever I ground to a halt (those darned semis) I'd skip ahead to that interesting twist in the road way up there in the distance, enjoy the scenery there a bit, maybe dash ahead even further for a bit more sightseeing.

I found that when I returned to where I originally abandoned my story, the obstacle was gone and I could make progress and fill in the bits of the journey I'd skipped over.

Donna K. Weaver said...

I like the scenic route. At the very least it can provide more ideas for future stories.

Melissa J. Cunningham said...

This was a really great post, Julie. We all need this reminder every so often. Just recently I found myself procrastinating in a story that should have been done a long time ago. It was SO frustrating. At my critique group, my friends helped me realize I didn't have a clear picture of who the antagonist even was, and what their goals and motivations were. Duh. As soon as I got that figured out, my book took off again.

Curtis Moser said...

Hmm...I'm writing a book right now where the protagonist is desperately looking for a pint of ice cream in the middle of nowhere. Not sure how to spice it up, but there are loads of great tips in this blog post. Thanks Julie!

Curtis Moser said...
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