It's been some time since my last post, and there's a reason for that. I don't think there's anything harder than the middle of a book. I'm not quite to the middle, but I have reached the POS stage--"piece of shit," as the great Kay Kenyon has dubbed it. This is the point at which the writer complains to her family that the book is hopeless, a disaster, that she's been wasting her time for months. If that writer is me, the family rolls its collective eyes and says, "You always say that." For some reason, the response, "This time I really mean it" has no discernible effect.
Beginnings are the easiest part of writing a book. Everything seems possible. Our characters are marvelous, heroic, charming, damaged but powerful. The plot--seen from this vantage point--looks great, convincing, compelling, satisfying. The setting will be wonderful to investigate and develop.
But middles--as I explored in an earlier post, "The Muddle in the Middle"--bring an author to the reckoning point. Suddenly the brilliant end to your story doesn't seem so accessible. The character arc you were so sure of is not so clear after all, and your characters are too passive, or too cold, or too pitiful, or too boring. The setting--there are so many details to be researched! Geography, business, culture, society--this is hard.
The writer may need her chops more in the middle of a novel than in any other part. If the story seems to languish, the stakes aren't high enough. Or the pressure on the characters isn't intense enough. The point of view may be wrong, or there may be too many POVs, thus diluting the emotional impact. There can be all sorts of things missing, either slowing down the pace or abbreviating the plot, which need to be assessed.
Some writers, as William Goldman points out in his book on writing screenplays, Which Lie Did I Tell?, may find it useful to skip over the tricky parts and go on to the next stage of the action, trusting that an answer will present itself later. For me, this doesn't work. I need to tell my stories in a linear fashion, and "c" can't happen until I figure out just how "b" works in my plot.
So. It's a piece of shit, but I will persevere. Part of my talent, such as it is, is a compulsion to finish what I start. I'll work through it, using all the tools at my disposal, and hope that one day I'll look back and think, "Of course! That was it all along!"
It's happened before. Fifteen times before, as that unsympathetic family insists on pointing out. This time, though . . .