Monday, December 8, 2008

In the Writer's Library, The Plot Thickens

When I was a newer writer, I belonged to the Writer's Digest Book Club. Most months I'd squeeze at least one book into my modest budget, and after four purchases earn enough points for a freebie that I'd select with great glee. I bought books on nuts-and-bolts basics like plot, POV, and setting; quite a few on novel writing; basic plot patterns and how to use them; most of the offerings specific to children's writing; plotting; creative nonfiction; the writer's life; and did I mention plotting? I read them, marked them up, talked to them in the margins, got a good education and built a decent writer's library this way.

Time passed. And the books aren't as new as they once were. But they're still on my shelves, a library of writerly wisdom. Wouldn't it be exciting to delve into them again? So I picked up the book called -- this will shock you -- Plot by Ansen Dibell. And found a treatment for what ails me in a chapter called "Early Middles."

My novel is begun. It is SO begun, that it's been begun for a year. I have my research (LOVE that research!), my characters, my MC's initial problem and a bang-up complication, and my first 50 pages. I have promise, potential, and critique partners who want to know what happens next. But forging into the middle is hard. It really makes me plot, you see. And it's so much easier to remain in the land of potential and promise than to battle on into the thick of the story and possibly fall on my face. And I've noticed that after really getting that beginning perking, a sort of fatigue sets in.

Guess what: I'm normal! Dibell calls this "fiction fatigue," and has developed the following tenet: "Every plot will try to go wrong after the first big scene." Take a two-day breather, move into your middle, and leave your beginning alone, she says. Because you're tempted to go down a wrong path after the first big scene, if you start fiddling with your beginning right after you finish it, when the wrong path is beckoning, you're likely to make changes based on this wrong-path thinking. Which means most of this second-guessing will be wrong. And I've noticed one thing about my own writing process that corroborates what Dibell is saying: If I feel a slow-down coming on, it's important to stop and listen. What's usually wrong is that I'm about to make a mistake. Stepping back from that portion of the story temporarily to view the whole and to give my mind a rest can keep me from taking a wrong fork in the road.

And then she speaks my words of affirmation for the day: "I think more stories have collapsed from premature tinkering than from any other single cause." Yes! Not only should the writer refrain from revising too soon, but from having the work critiqued too soon. (How you deal with the latter, when you belong to a group and want to remain a member, may be another topic.)

Dibell speaks directly to me when she says, "Fiction fatigue: expect it, and don't let it ruin your story." Now to see what she has to say about "gearing up for the special tasks that middles involve."

11 comments:

Meg Wiviott said...

I suffer from fiction fatigue as well. It's nice to know it's normal. Forging ahead is the cure.

Thanks, Marcia. Excellent post.

PJ Hoover said...

What an interesting point - going in the wrong direction after the first big scene. This is great information! Thanks, Marcia!

Marcia said...

Meg -- It does help to know things are normal, doesn't it? Hmm, do you suppose this is a new malady to complain of? Writer's block, and now fiction fatigue? :) Thanks for stopping by.

PJ -- Isn't it, though? And isn't it validating to know these things are common to writers? Wow, even my potential mistakes are legit . . . :)

Brenda said...

I also have a library full of books that are marked up and yellow hi-lighted until they glow in the dark...I have my favorites..the ones I can go to and know right where the answer is going to be...and then I have the ones that I only go to when I'm sooo lost that the info I'm use to isn't working anymore...grin...

Kim Kasch said...

Oh, my problem is more middle flubber - or flab - I bloat.

Oh, wait, I was supposed to be talking about my stories not me. Looks like we have the same problem though, I go on and on, rather than getting to the action right away.

This is a good reminder - thanks.

Marcia said...

Brenda -- mine are yellow highlighted too! Yellow is not my favorite color, yet in highlighters it's the best. And as with any collection of books, there are always the faves.

Kim -- LOL. Yes, I think I've been postponing the middle by lengthening the beginning. Today, while 10 inches is falling out there and the whole world is closed, might be a good time, if the ICL lessons don't overflow their time slot . . .

Tabitha said...

Great post. :) I've heard this everywhere, so I guess that means I'm not normal. :) I have beginning fatigue - I'm terrible at beginnings, and they're so important in my mind because the whole story flows from it. So, I guess my problem is that I'm perpetually starting on the wrong path, and it takes me forever to find the right one. :) But once I've found it, it's rare that I stray from it.

Marcia said...

Tabitha -- Richard Peck says he writes an entire first draft, then throws away chapter 1 without rereading it! He always does this. He says it's because the beginning is the ending in disguise, so how can he know the beginning until he knows the ending? I guess there are as many ways of working as there are writers.

Tabitha said...

Yeah, I love that quote. :) Wish it applied to me though, but, alas, it doesn't. :) I start my story in the right place, but tend to wander around until I find the right path to the middle.

Angela said...

I love it when the middle is full of surprises - when I'm writing and when I'm reading.

Enjoy writing pages 51+

Marcia said...

Tabitha and Angela -- Well, I've wandered into the middle and met two more characters. I like surprises, too. :)