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Monday, October 13, 2008

The Turning Point

Every author will recount the difficulties of the wretched middle of a book’s development. "It’s all crap," he’ll say. "It’s as boring as watching paint dry." "I’ve got the focus all wrong." "This will never come together."

All the gleeful laying out of enticing clues, and ambiguous new characters, and discovery of new magic has long given way to the difficult, often frustrating work of
- creating tension, and upping the tension with each twist and turn of the plot
- choreographing climactic action
- developing scenes that actually forward the plot and don’t just recapitulate
- getting to the nitty-gritty events that impact your characters’ growth and change.

The end still seems as distant as ever and may be less clear than when you started. The threads of logic have gotten tangled. There are too many characters and no clear villains. You can’t figure out how the heck to get from Eltevire to Vernase because you already set Vernase within a day’s travel of Merona, and at this point in the book you just don’t want your characters traveling for a week. Chapter 17 turned into two chapters when you realized you’d been so determined to get through it, you’d let your poor captive investigator escape the very torment he’d been investigating [never let him off easy just to get that chapter done], and there are still at least two entire story arcs you haven’t touched yet. Uh...yeah, this is getting personal.

Well maybe this isn’t the exact set of circumstances that drive every author up the wall when she reaches approximately 2/3 of the way through a new book. These are certainly the ones that have popped to my mind over the past couple of weeks. Plus we’ve been in and out to a family wedding in Seattle and spent one day driving mom into the mountains to see the glorious aspens, and a couple more doing handouts for the Vancouver conference that is coming up Real Soon Now. And, holy moly, this presidential election is SO distracting [more on this in another post you may or may not want to read!]

But, as it happens, my little cadre of fellow writers set up another mountain retreat for this past weekend. I hadn’t thought I’d be able to go, but I desperately needed some concentrated, relatively undistractable time, and my ES (Extraordinary Spouse) had a ton of work to do for a client, too. Two full days of writing and some twenty pages later and I’ve reached the Turning Point, where my investigators emerge from a near catastrophe and put together the chain of evidence in an entirely different way to point the spotlight (or the spyglass, as may be) on a totally unsuspected suspect. And what do I find?

I had actually laid in enough clues for them to draw this conclusion. I had actually put them through enough of a wringer to force them to look at things a different way. I’ve left myself pointed in exactly the direction I meant to go all along.

OK. I still worry about the focus and the missing spark and the wordy first chapters the fact that I’ve still got a lot of story to tell, and I’ve got one BIG motivation still to work out. But details in past chapters can now be refined and enhanced because I’ve put together this piece of the story. I can probably rip out a few extraneous pieces because they weren’t needed. I can strengthen the presentation of the main characters because now I know that at this particular point in chapter 21, the three are in harmony. I can make sure the pace of their change from their first meeting to this point is clear. And I can lay in the "festering sores" that will send it all to heck, because now I know when the descent must begin.

I woke up this morning with one idea for revising an early scene, because now I'm seeing a particular character's arc more clearly.

Last night driving home from Denver on a very misty, cold dark night, I realized that one "consequence" I had set up for the end was just really tooooo dark. And this morning upon waking, I knew what I had to do about it, because it fit perfectly with another character's arc.

I'm hoping for more such revelations this week, if I can keep my reacquired focus.

I’m still in the wretched middle, but maybe…just maybe…I’ve turned the corner.

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