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Which part of your book do you spend the most time on?
Beginning, middle or end? Something else?
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Writing a book is a long endeavor with many twists and turns. The amount of time you spend on any one section, chapter, page, paragraph, is determined by how that particular tome is going to produce itself from your mind. I’ve had manuscripts that take me little time to write the main story, but have struggled to find the proper opening, or the ending eludes me. Overall, however, I feel that the middle of the story, the meat of the project, is where I spend most of my time.
In my estimation, the middle is where the heart of the story resides. To make a great beginning or end, you must understand that journey between the points. Sometimes we authors do. Sometimes we do not. The projects I have started and left unfinished simply had no clear pathway. Therefore, I couldn’t spend more time on them, because whatever I wrote wasn’t going to be good enough. Hammering through the fog would only lead to a struggle with the point. Therefore, I have let them go, because until I find their point, there’s no solid reason to continue putting in the time. There I am, stuck right in the middle–possibly for years.
A book is much like a puzzle. In the end, the picture is very clear. At the start, it’s a bunch of jumbled pieces. You may have an idea of what it is supposed to look like, but if the pieces don’t fit together properly, it won’t work!
Even if I do have a clear path from beginning to end, which I had with the books that I have published, the greatest part of my work is researching and crafting the story that sits at the center. It must be engaging. The point has to be clear, but not so obvious readers are annoyed that the protagonist doesn’t seem to get it, and rambles on about the place suddenly waking to their reality by the end. The point should grow like a garden, all the healthy vegetables, that will in the end make a lovely salad.
Outsiders often think that what we storytellers do is easy, but then they only see the final products and are not privy to the inner workings of how a book becomes a book. The long days and nights ruminating the idea are unseen. The drafts remain private. The starts without finishes don’t see the light of the day. Sometimes we mention these things, but they seem somehow trivial, or small in the greater scope of the work, because the product is there in front of us. A reader does not often get to agonize with the writer for months of the creation process. They simply find the work once it is published and many read it within a day. Do they even know that sometimes it took years to put that book together?
A good reason to spend so much time on the middle is that weaving the tale part. In the middle, you can lay that breadcrumb trail. This is probably where the most treasure can be dug. If the reader is paying attention, the writer will have given them clear clues to the outcome the entire way. For instance, something mentioned in the beginning will carry meaning toward the end. Have you ever watched a television show and a character says something that you think is odd and out of place, or the camera lingers on an object? That’s a direct clue. Often viewers don’t get it until the end or the next episode.
I was just watching an episode of Legends of Tomorrow (which has gotten irreparably campy). My favorite character Mick has had a fling with an alien. He mentions at the end of the show that she did a weird tentacle thing in his ear. In another episode soon after, we find out that his otherworldly lover has laid an egg sac inside his ear. Of course she did. Isn’t it obvious? It was to me. I knew they were bothering to say this line to clue you in. That could be my screenwriting background, though, that has me that clued in.
Regardless, the center of the book, the middle parts, are where we drop all of these clues. For example: we drop something at the beginning to pick up later. Usually, it is picked up in the middle and carried forward at that point if it came up so soon. Dropping clues at the end are allusions to future happenings to write about If an author has written sequels, or plans them, pay close attention to the end clues. That said, it is in the middle you will find the heart of my work and effort. For me, it is the axis on which the story turns.
Picture a maze, if you will. The beginning is at one point on the edge and the end at another point along the edge. The bulk of the work takes place in the middle to solve the maze. Those side steps and wrong turns, the hidden treasures on dead ends, they all feed into it.
Have you seen those memes that poke fun at the path to success? It shows a straight line from A to B, and the caption says how you think success works. The next picture shows a knotwork of snarls and loops between A and B? A good story looks like picture two–not too complicated, but full of twists and turns that all feed the stakes and create tension, pushing not only the protagonist forward, but the reader too. Don’t twist and turn too much, because you could lose them through frustration and confusion.
Often, because I spend so much time carefully working out the path between the two essential points of beginning and end, I feel that I have rushed the ending. I wonder if other authors feel this way too?
Let’s hop on through the responses from the other authors by clicking their links below and see if they talk about that, too…
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