Wednesday, October 10, 2007

On middles, dark woods and boots

In the middle of the road of my life I awoke in the dark wood where the true way was wholly lost. - Dante's Divine Comedy

Having found myself lost in the middle of my book AGAIN, I did what I typically do. I went back to the beginning and tried to find a new way through my story. Only to find myself lost in a different dark wood. But, and this is big, this time I'm not going back to the beginning to hack my way through again. This time I decided to start where I am and go from here, knowing that some things will have to change in the set up of the story to make where I am now and where I'm going make sense. But I'll wait until I get all the way to the end, to the other side of the forest, and then I'll follow my trail back to the beginning. I have hopes.

One thing that always changes as I write is my cast. I start out with way too many characters because I'm not really sure what they'll eventually mean to my main people. So I have to let them participate for a while and get to know them. During the first couple of trips through the first 100 pages, they all seem to have a role in the story, but then I get to the middle a couple of times and can see that, no, a bunch of them don't belong after all. Some of them really lovely people, kind people, children. But if they can't help me get to the other side of the dark wood, they gotta go! So far, I've given 4 characters the boot, and I believe I know now who my main secondary characters are (there are 3 of them) and how they're going to help us all get to the other side.

I have to say that one of my minor characters (not 1 of the above) just cracks me up, and I can't wait to reveal him to readers. He's based on a neighbor of a relative who I haven't met, but heard just one line about. One really good line. He's a nice companion through these woods. His only job is to make me smile from time to time, and he's really good at it.


Anonymous said...

The middle of a first draft can be a scary, lonely place. I'm with you, plow ahead. Get all the way out one time so you have something solid and complete to work with. Go back after and remove or remold everything that doesn't work.

I know many writers, myself included, who kill themselves reworking a first half. Hell, a first chapter. It really impedes that sense of accomplishment and completion, especially for first time writers.

Thank you for your posts Carleen. It's encouraging to know that someone with all your experience still must hunt for the trail occasionally.

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Oh yeah, as one of my dear readers/editors said to me, "Finish the damn book. Get to the end."

She was, as usual, right.

The middle is so much easier now.

Lisa said...

It is so encouraging to read posts from authors like you, Judy, Therese, Patry Francis and others and to see that pitfalls await writers at all levels -- not in a misery loves company way, but in a way that reinforces the idea that the challenges are all part of the process for everyone. Thank you for sharing this and I know you'll find the best path through the woods.

Gina Black said...

Hacking is it, isn't it. I often feel that way when I'm dealing with a messy first draft. (And at least for me, all first drafts are messy.)In fact, I'm at that point now. I can't wait until I've found the trail (or trails) and can get to the weeding part. It always takes longer than I want it to! (Maybe I need a sharper machete? Or maybe I don't use it with enough force . . . hmmm.)

Carleen Brice said...

Judy, finish the damn book, indeed! I have a wonderful beta reader who does the same service for me. I'm turning over pages to her at the end of this month.

Rebecca and Lisa, I always think "You talkin' to me?" and want to look over my shoulder when you guys say something about "all your experience." Anything I can do to help you know that we're all in the same boat, published or not, I'm happy to do! (Or at least a lot of us are in the same boat. I'm sure there are those who glide along in far more luxurious accomodations, but I haven't met one of them yet.)

Gina, if you figure out what tool or technique works for hacking through it, PLEASE let us know!

Ello said...

I just got some feedback that made me realize I need to completely redo my WIP and do alot of hacking. It is quite daunting but I just got to put my head down and do it instead of letting that overwhelming feeling take over - you know, the one that says give up. It also means I'm getting rid of characters I really liked, but I need to be strong and just do it.

Carleen Brice said...

Strength and courage, Ello! If it'll make your story better, it's worth it. Keep your eyes on the prize.

Lafreya said...

My novel group had to tell one of our writer and friend that she had to stop writing the first 50 pages over and over and over again and finish the first draft. She has been doing this for a year. She was a little shocked and somewhat hurt we said anything but later that week she finally admitted to me that we were right and now she back writing new chapters. Sometime our friends and other writers have to save us from ourselves. I wish we had said something sooner

My heart sank about a year ago when I got told by an agent I respected that my WIP needed a major rewrite. I was so disappointed. Now I'm almost on the other side of all the work and it was worth every bit of the blood, sweat and tears