Four allies in attacking the middle(of your novel)

A beautiful morning here in the Kawartha Lakes: sunny, warm, blue skies without a threat of rain, at least not yet. It is April, however, so I expect a downpour before tomorrow. In the meantime, I’m working on the middle.

No, I’m not talking about girth, but those vast pages from the end of Act 1 to the beginning of Act 111 in a novel. They should be vast, in number at least, but mine are not. I write short, too short and too fast. I need to get to the end, to see how it all comes out for my protagonist. Yes, I should have plotted it all out and I will next time, but this book is at 62,000 words, a little long for an outline and a little short for a novel and I’ve come to the end, resolved the crisis, packed everyone up, and sent them all home to bed.

The magic middle moment(see James Scott Bell happens at 36000 words, so I’m aiming for 72,000. Not long but a decent length for a paperback or an ebook.

I spent this morning plotting, searching websites for help, considering sub-plots, considering the sub-plots I all ready have and finally returning to Syd Field’s book Screenplay, The Foundations of Screenwriting, not because I’m writing for the movies but because his approach is excellent for writers of genre fiction. I also searched out Sol Stein’s On Writing, which I’ve read before at least twice for his section on triage for editing.

Barbara Kyle recommended Albert Zuckerman’s Writing the Blockbuster Novel and I’m in the midst of reading that as well. He presents a detailed analysis of ken Follett’s The Man from Saint Petersburg through all its drafts. Invaluable.

Too much reading and not enough writing? Perhaps, but I’m learning all the time. Revision has so many sections, so much detail to consider, that learning how others have done the job helps.

The Garden:

The miniature iris are blooming and the paeonia tenuifolia have sprung up. I pruned some roses yesterday and searched in vain for one of my clematis. Perhaps it’s just late.

Mark at Galetta Nurseries in the Ottawa Valley said this week that he hit frost a 4” when he tried to dig out some roses. The old saying is ‘plant when the ground is warm enough to sit on’. Good advice.

peony tenuifoliaPaeonia Tenuifolia, my garden.

Books about Writing

Long ago I took one English course at University. At the time, I was so intent on medicine and my science courses that I failed to take advantage of an opportunity. The teacher was Tom Marshall, Canadian poet. He was working on his MA that year and I think we were one of the first classes he had to teach. What an ordeal that must have been— bored medical students and engineers, most of us.

I remember being terrified most of that first year, felt unprepared and well out of my depth. I produced nothing good enough even for a B. I’d closed my mind to writing.

Now, I’m trying to catch up, to learn what I should have then, and so, I read books about writing.

Sol Stein: On Writing, St. Martin’s Griffin, New York.

I didn’t know his name when I found him on a list of writing teachers. He has written several books including On Writing, How to Grow a Novel, and Sol Stein’s Reference Book for Writers. He worked as an editor and publisher and playwright and successful novelist.

He also has developed a computer programme to teach the writers craft: the new Write Pro.

I haven’t bought the programme, but I have read the books, and tried to use his techniques in my writing. His lessons about revision, what he calls his triage method, focus on plot and character, major areas that always need work. When he does get to the front to back revision, he suggests scene by scene decision. Does it work? If not, out it goes.

Nancy Kress: Characters, Emotion and Viewpoint, Writer’s Digest Books.

I took a brief on-line course at Writer’s Digest some years ago, on character development and recently read the book that accompanied it again. Or rather, am  reading it, because I’m in the process of revision and need to understand characterization more than I do. Nancy Kress taught the course and the characters I developed with her and their conflict form the nucleus of the book that I’m revising.

Theses are just two of the books on my shelf. Useful additions to any writer’s library.