The beginning of a book has the illusion of being easy but next to the ending it can be the most difficult part to write. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve always found the middle of a book the quickest write. You see – you know the characters fairly well by then and the plot is already well underway. So development is pretty much over and its time to let the action evolve. You know where things are heading and may even have an idea for an ending, though usually endings change because, by the time you get there, whatever you had in mind from the outset has altered from experiencing the book’s progress through the eyes of the characters. You have have planned an untimely demise for a character who has become your favorite or your main character may actually be less interesting than you originally imagined.
I’ve often told people that I suck at writing endings. Ive time I’ve gotten better at it, especially after writing the interim endings for each of the books in The Wolfcat Chronicles series. But serial ending are different. They always lead into something else. As far as my writing goes, almost every book I’ve written connects to something else, though. If it doesn’t seem to, wait for it. Another book is probably on the way and somehow it will connect. Even Becoming Thuperman, which I purposely wrote as a stand alone, connects into the weird world of Brent Woods. Its connection is the most tangential of all the manuscripts I’ve composed. Hint, Will’s mother went to high school with Terry Harper. Yeah, it’s in there.
A number of my friends are writers. Some tell me coming up with a title is difficult. For whatever reason that’s the easiest part of the process for me. Many, like me, write a good bit of the novel by the seat of their pants. We call it being a Pantser. The experience of creation is a wild, spontaneous ride. I think some of that comes through in the book and the readers can share a bit of the creative experience. However it is a bit like taking a 1000 piece crossword pule and throwing it on the floor and hoping some of the pieces just accidentally come together. Since I don’t believe in accidents…well, every writer must organize things at some point, right?
Other writers detail out a plot from beginning to end. They’re called Plotters. I think there is a downside to this style as well. The book can become too stylized and predictable as it methodically progresses. It’s kind of like looking as a sine wave on an oscilloscope – you know there is a peak ahead and valley after and then another peak. There is a steady rhythm and flow, which is nice for some readers but it will put others to sleep. Mixing it up a bit, throwing in a random, unexpected event or two helps break the monotony. That may not come until the draft is finished and, as a writer, you just feel the book is missing something. That’s one reason revisions tend to add pages to a manuscript as the author tweaks this and that or suddenly realizes there is a subplot that can be used to create some mystery or tension. Perhaps there is an alternate love connection that wasn’t clear from the start.
If an author wants to excite the reader and, for whatever time it takes to read a book, engage the imagination and suspend disbelief, he or she should make the book as realistic as possible. As much as we plot and plan our lives, things do not always work out the way we want. So why expect a book to be any different? As you can probably tell, my writing style is a little of both Pantser and Plotter. I usually begin the process with a few character profiles and then have the key players interact in conversations. Often enough the characters tell me where the conflicts are and that almost always hints at where the plot is headed. Building the story around the dialogue, as it is inherently more interesting to the reader than long narratives, is also better for showing and not telling the story. If you focus on dialogue and use action tags to highlight what the characters are doing, their nervous ticks, their habit of playing with a pencil or a pen while sitting at a desk, lighting a second cigarette before snuffing out the first, you immediately allow the reader to visualize a scene as if he or she is there. observing.
I don’t think one author should guide another in the creative aspect but sharing some notes and giving a little advice helps. Every writer’s situation is different. Of necessity some cannot devote the kind of time they might like to the task because of other obligations whether its family, work or something else. Often writers claim to have writer’s block and sometimes it is tied to beginning the writing process. It’s hard to start something and easy to be distracted with life or anything else that is less painful than coming to terms with the crazy ideas you have kicking around in your noggin. So, if you suffer when coming up with a way to begin a book, why not start in the middle instead? Give it a try. Work your way in both directions from the middle and eventually you’ll have a beginning and and ending. Does it work every time? No, of course not. But it’s different and changing things up a bit helps break writer’s block. A lot of times that’s all you need is a nudge.
The other way I’ve found to overcome writer’s block is have a pretty much set schedule for your writing. Whenever that is, wherever you are you write. It doesn’t matter what you write, just write something. It could be a shopping list, an email, a note – whatever, just connect mind to hand and let the process and the flow of ideas take over. Writer’s block, to me, seems to be a temporary halt in the flow. Force the effort to write but never force the writing.What I mean is this, keep the avenue of your ideas open. Dredge the channel to prevent anything from damming things up. Having said that, don’t make writing a drudgery.
If whatever project you’re working on isn’t inspiring you to get out and bed and work on it, it’s probably going to have the same effect on someone reading it. Don’t scrap it just yet, but set it aside and come back to it later. Some books need to be fleshed out in a search process. Fried Windows flowed as sixteen sort of related short stories before I ever started to think of them as a novel. One Over X came to me as vignettes focused on individual characters. Stories that refuse to flow from start to end can be more challenging but that doesn’t mean the idea isn’t good or that the book won’t work well. Sometimes a story has to come out in pieces. It can be frustrating, but when everything comes together it will be worth the wait.
Not every idea you have will make a good book or even a good short story. Sometimes the silliest things make the best stories, though. So never give up on an idea too soon. Just be aware that your scrap pile will grow exponentially while your actual projects progress in a more linear fashion.
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