Friday, June 19, 2009

We All Lose Steam Sometimes

By Heather Justesen

Last March I had the awesome opportunity to attend Snow College's Major Rush (Go Badgers!), which meant I had the chance to speak with students who wanted to go into publishing, but didn't know how to go about it. Afterward one of the young women whom I had met, but hadn't had much time to talk with, wrote me with a question--can I just say how much I love to talk about writing? She said that she had gotten partway through a book and was stuck. Even when she wrote later chapters she found it difficult to merge everything back together. This is what I told her.

I think this is a problem we all face sometimes. I know I have trouble with my stories when I get about 2/3 of the way through. Even though I know where I want to end up, I still struggle to get from here to there.

There are several possible causes for this, in my experience. First, I often don't have enough conflict planned for that section of the book, so I have to add something more. I heard a podcast (Writing Excuses) where the guys said when they get stuck, they have a bad guy knock down the door. Another writer recently mentioned on her blog that when she gets to a spot like this, she starts looking to see if there are any characters she can kill off (Josi Killpack).

Obviously, these aren't going to solve every problem, but sometimes when I get to this place, I re-evaluate what I've written (I don't do a thorough edit, I just skim over what I've got written to refresh my memory and see if there are any loose ends). Often I can find a conflict from earlier in the story that I let drop that I can pull again. Other times I get ideas on how to reintroduce or strengthen an existing conflict (The ex in-laws try to get custody, the character gets arrested by mistake, the guy who has been trying to get her to date him all year pushes again, and she pushes back in a totally unexpected way).

In my stories it is almost ALWAYS a lack of sufficient conflict. I often call one of my writing friends (Danyelle) and brain storm with her, because she's great at coming up with new things that should be obvious conflict possibilities that I totally missed. If you have someone you can talk to about your story, you might want to see if they have ideas.

Another possible reason for the problem could be that you're trying to get your character to do something they wouldn't normally do without proper motivation. I've been having this problem with another book I'm working on because I haven't given my character a good enough reason to do what I want them to do. So I either need to give them a better reason to come to this decision, or I need to give them a different course to follow. In this case, not having them make the decision I want them to make is going to ruin the whole premise of the story, so I need to fix the motivation.

A third possibility is that maybe you don't know your characters well enough. When I don't understand the character, know their quirks and history, I sometimes have trouble staying on track, or figuring out what they would do next to get to the next major story goal. Conversely, if I know my characters really well, I know what conflicts are coming up, and I'm excited about the story, it tends to almost write itself.

So why do I let myself start writing without knowing my characters inside and out or having a reasonable outline? No idea. I guess I'm just a glutton for punishment.


Jillayne Clements said...

Thank you for your suggestions! I can certainly use them. :)

Rebecca Talley said...

You must've written this specifically for me!

Nichole Giles said...

I am so right there with you. Motivation, lack of conflict, all of it. The middle of a book is the very hardest part for me.

This is where my awesome critique group comes in. I don't know what I'd do without you guys.

So basically, what you're saying is the bad guys need to come knocking as I'm writing today...


Heather Justesen said...

Nichole, if there's anything your books don't lack, it's plenty of bad-guy action!

Now I need to go figure out how to work in another scene with my own bad guy/gal character...we've been a bit distracted what with the rush wedding and dropping bombs (makes my book sound like a heavy-action thriller, doesn't it? lol)

Cindy Beck said...

Great advice. The middle is always the hardest part, in my book ("book" meaning both literally and figuratively! :)