Forum Transcripts

Event start time:

Tue Aug 02 12:06:03 2005

Event end time:

Tue Aug 02 13:29:18 2005



Legend:
Questions from the Audience are presented in red.
Answers by the Speaker are in black.
The Moderator's comments are in blue.

mary rosenblum

Hello all!

mary rosenblum

Welcome to our Tuesday Forum.

mary rosenblum

I hope you all had a great weekend!

mary rosenblum

. If you're new here, remember that you need to click on the 'Ask a Question' button or the 'word bubble' next to the red question mark at the top of the screen, or use the ask a question icon in order to ask a question. Your regular 'send' bar won't reach me! You can also type /ask in front of your question to reach me.

mary rosenblum

We've talked about beginnings and endings in our last two Forums, so we really need to talk about middles in order to really complete the set here. :-)

mary rosenblum

And for many writers, the middle is the real roadblock.

mary rosenblum

Especially if you're working on a novel.

mary rosenblum

But even a short story can fizzle out in the middle, leaving you without enough of a dramatic arc to make the story compelling.

mary rosenblum

So what IS a middle?

mary rosenblum

And what does it need to do?

mary rosenblum

Well, if you think of the beginning as the problem that confronts your main character(s)...

mary rosenblum

and the end as the resolution of that problem...

mary rosenblum

your middle adds interest. Here, you throw obstacles in the way of your characters.

mary rosenblum

It's no fun if solving that problem is TOO easy!

mary rosenblum

You can realize you've misplaced your car keys as you get ready to leave for an appointment...

mary rosenblum

search the house, find 'em...that's a conflict and resolution, folks. You want to pay money to read that?

mary rosenblum

But if our MC gets herself trapped in a secret room she discovers as she searches for those keys...

mary rosenblum

and might end up there for weeks, finally figuring out a way to escape...

mary rosenblum

that's much more of a story.

christopher dale

the middle of my novel is where the MC started really getting the action going. Where he started getting personal with the revenge,m and not just planing it. Where he was introduced to his (later) new love interest.

mary rosenblum

The middle is probably a very good place to introduce that love interest. :-) Novel subplots often add that dramatic tension to the middle of the novel...

mary rosenblum

but my pacing alarms are going off when you tell me the plot action doesn't really begin until there...

mary rosenblum

Maybe his planning is really really interesting, but you might think hard about that!

mary rosenblum

A lot of novel writers charge into that novel...

mary rosenblum

writing gung-ho for maybe 50 pages as their plot gets underway, they show us the characters...

mary rosenblum

and then they hit a block. Many many never finish the novel.

mary rosenblum

They know where they want to end up....they just have this huge flat uninviting plain to cross first. :-)

christopher dale

This is why I am rewriting it - The first 7 chapters intro all characters that have a big part, and give their backgrounds and such. 7 wiu the actual murder. Then 8 - 10 is his trying the LEGAL way. 11 - 15 he starts planning his revenge and getting

christopher dale

his friends together and bumbling several things up. 16 - is the "rest of the story" :-)

mary rosenblum

I really strongly suggest that you get to that murder in two. Three if your character intros are VERY dramatic. But two is better, Chris.

mary rosenblum

Let us learn more about your characters in the middle...

mary rosenblum

that's a very good use for it. :-)

mary rosenblum

You can use strong character conflicts to add a lot of dramatic peaks to the space between the plot start...

mary rosenblum

and the climax.

christopher dale

This is why I am rewriting, I am NOT Alistar McLaine... :-0

christopher dale

1 is where the murder is... :-) In the rewrite

mary rosenblum

Much better. :-)

mary rosenblum

If you hit a full stop as you get to the middle of your story...

mary rosenblum

it's time to sit down and take a look at your plot structure.

mary rosenblum

This is the Tuesday Forum with me, Mary Rosenblum, LR Web Editor, fiction and nonfiction writer. We're talking about that desert of a middle. If you're new here, remember that you need to click on the 'Ask a Question' button or the 'word bubble' next to the red question mark at the top of the screen, or use the ask a question icon in order to ask a question. Your regular 'send' bar won't reach me! You can also type /ask in front of your question to reach me.

mary rosenblum

What I sometimes see in novice ms, is that the writers resolves the central conflict way too early, or accidentally renders it 'not a conflict' by...

mary rosenblum

setting up a situation that makes the resolution nearly certain.

mary rosenblum

Make sure that your conflict really will climax and resolve where you originally intended it to.

seigfried007

What's the difference between needing a break and hitting the brakes?

mary rosenblum

I'm not quite sure what you mean by that, seig. Can you be a bit more specific?

geezer

In my novel the hero goes to fetch his reluctant bride for their arranged wedding. The encounter 5 major hurdles along the way home. I don't want it to sound like the perils of Pauline. Is their a rule of thumb as to how much/many complications are enough?

mary rosenblum

Well, geezer, just from your thumbnail here, I'd say that if the external obstacles are all that is in the way of success for your MC, you run a good chance...

mary rosenblum

of doing 'Perils of Pauline' no matter how many/few encounters you have.

mary rosenblum

If the major conflict is that she is a reluctant bride and if she doens't change her mind, he's out of luck...

mary rosenblum

that internal conflict can be the backbone that carries the story...

mary rosenblum

your encounters can slowly break down her hostility and show them gradually bonding...

mary rosenblum

and you'll know when enough is enough.

mary rosenblum

In that case, the internal conflict is the dominant one, and the encounters are obstacles that provide peaks of drama in the middle...

mary rosenblum

and slowly rise to the climax, since we see them getting closer, to the stakes are higher each time...

mary rosenblum

if they both survive, the chances are greater that they will 'live happily ever after'. (to over simplify)

seigfried007

Needing a break from the story vs hitting the roadblock of creativity.

mary rosenblum

Ah, thanks for clarifying. The main difference, seig, is...do you go back.

mary rosenblum

I always stop as soon as I don't rush instantly into the next scene.

mary rosenblum

I go do something else.

mary rosenblum

If I just need a break, I find myself waking up at 2 AM and thinking about what happens next...

mary rosenblum

or while I'm running erands...some time. And then I go back.

mary rosenblum

If that just doesn't happen, doesn't happen...then I figure I've hit a wall on the story. Something is broken and I need to figure out what.

mary rosenblum

I have one like that right now, 3/4 done...about 8000 words to date.

mary rosenblum

It's broken. Haven't figured out how to fix it yet. But eventually I will. :-)

seigfried007

LOL! 3/4s here--but 150K

mary rosenblum

Oooh, honey, I sure hope you plan to do some trimming when you finish the first draft! :-).

mary rosenblum

However, three quarters of the way done...

mary rosenblum

is probably not an issue about 'middle' but more an indication that...

mary rosenblum

your end isn't going to work as you envisioned it.

cosmos

I'm finding that by learning how to write a screenplay, it helps to understand how to craft novels and all stories. The hero's inner journey and the hero's outer journey. Starting with the setup of what the normal life is like, then comes the opportunity and a new situation. Then a big change of plans, then progress. The point of no return comes leading to complication and higher stakes. A major setback, final push, climax and aftermath. I highly recommend books by Michael Hauge and Christopher Vogler. The Hero's Two Journeys is by both writers. www.timberwolfpress.com

mary rosenblum

Yes, except you need to be very careful about becoming formulaic, cosmos. Hollywood works in formula...

mary rosenblum

you pitch to producers in formula.

mary rosenblum

It does not work nearly as well in the prose market and if editors identify your formula...if the bones show, in other words, they may pass on it...

mary rosenblum

for a story where the formula is warped, bent, twisted, or simply ignored. :-)

seigfried007

feeling bogged down in all the details and heaviness of the plot

mary rosenblum

I"m not surprised, seig. That is a VERY long novel. You might want to sit down and outline it chapter by chapter in detail...and then seriously ask yourself...

mary rosenblum

if you couldn't simplify it.

mary rosenblum

Novel drafts are not writ in stone.

mary rosenblum

The story matters, not your words, and if the words you have right now have let you bog down...

mary rosenblum

maybe what you need is a shovel. :-)

mary rosenblum

You might discover that by seriously simplifying the story, something truely powerful emerges.

cosmos

Michael Hauge comes to Portland, Mary. Is it possible for you to interview him about writing screenplays and developing story?

mary rosenblum

Probably not, cosmos. LR doesn't offer screenwriting and I really do need to focus on what students here need, first.

seigfried007

to simplify it, I would have to delete most of my characters

mary rosenblum

Well, if the novel isn't working for you, maybe you need to either reduce some of 'em to minor characters or delete 'em entirely, seig. :-)

mary rosenblum

I know that sounds REALLY daunting, but it's not as hard as it seems when you haven't done it. :-)

mary rosenblum

If they're not pulling their weight, or if you simply have too many characters for THIS story...

mary rosenblum

promise 'em their own book and put 'em on the shelf.

mary rosenblum

You can use 'em elsewhere.

seigfried007

talk about killing your darlings! LOL

mary rosenblum

Oh yeah, it REALLY feels like that. Been there, done that!

mary rosenblum

BUT...what is hard to realize when you first start out is that your first responsibility is NOT to your characters, no matter how real they are and how much you love 'em.

mary rosenblum

Your first responsiblity is to...

mary rosenblum

...story.

mary rosenblum

I have removed characters that had become real for me, but turned out not to work in the story.

mary rosenblum

I rather think that's what's broken the one I haven't fixed yet, sigh.

mary rosenblum

And I really LIKE him a lot.

geezer

I cried all morning after I killed my support character.

mary rosenblum

Good. :-) Hopefully that means your readers will sniffle too, geeze!

mary rosenblum

This is the Tuesday Forum with me, Mary Rosenblum, LR Web Editor, fiction and nonfiction writer. We're talking about that desert of a middle. If you're new here, remember that you need to click on the 'Ask a Question' button or the 'word bubble' next to the red question mark at the top of the screen, or use the ask a question icon in order to ask a question. Your regular 'send' bar won't reach me! You can also type /ask in front of your question to reach me.

tory

Mary--Ditto your comments about simplifying. At aconference Davis Bunn discussed just that. I took his latest book, The Lazarus Trap, and did a chapter by chapter outline. It really helped me see how to plot, check my dramatic arc, and tighten. When I re-wrote my MS, it was much crisper.

mary rosenblum

Good for you, tory! That's a lot of work, but well worth your time and energy!

mary rosenblum

It takes practice to be able to 'see' structure in a novel length work.

rcourt929

150k words is big for a novel mary? is there an average length to shhot for?

mary rosenblum

Depends on the imprint, rcourt.

mary rosenblum

Read the guidelines for that imprint.

mary rosenblum

They may specifiy...70,000-100,000 for most mass markets and your average size hardcover.

mary rosenblum

The 'fat' mass markets are probably 150,000

mary rosenblum

A lot of the slender Har-Sil romances, for example, are only about 50,000.

mary rosenblum

But other romance imprints from Har-Sil are 80,000 - 100,000.

mary rosenblum

But it is not a really really good idea in this age of minimal profit margins on paper books to TRY for over 150,000 words.

mary rosenblum

It'll be much harder to sell and will really really have to knock an editors socks off...

mary rosenblum

because the publisher will not want to risk that much money on an unpublished author.

mary rosenblum

Publishing reality 101.

gwanny

Mary, do you think it is better to have a small number of characters and concentrate on making them come alive in the middle? Hope that makes sense

mary rosenblum

It certainly does, gwanny, and yes, I certainly do.

mary rosenblum

If you have a cast of thousands, even if those characters are vividly protrayed, we don't get to spend a lot of time...

mary rosenblum

with any one individual.

mary rosenblum

So our intimacy is limited. And readers get confused easily when you get into five or seven or nine main characters!

cosmos

Romances are built on formula and there are certain structure elements needed for a mystery and other genres. So what is a good book to read about structure for a novel?

mary rosenblum

There's no one book cosmos because there is no one way to structure a novel.

mary rosenblum

Understanding plot helps. If you're writing for a particular genre, understanding how that genre is structured helps.

mary rosenblum

Essentially, a strong central conflict and resolution, supported by the subplot conflicts and resolutions is what you are after.

mary rosenblum

They should converge, the subplots should support your plot, tie in, in some way, rather than subtracting reader attention from the main plot.

mary rosenblum

You can do single or parallel construction...

mary rosenblum

and a parallel construction, while more challenging for a novice, is certainly one way around a flat middle! :-)

mary rosenblum

You are not looking for a single type of structure that will 'wow' an editor.

mary rosenblum

You are writing a story that will 'wow' an editor...

mary rosenblum

and however you do that is right.

mary rosenblum

Beware of books that tell you 'do it this way'.

mary rosenblum

Some are good...Donald Maas's book, for example...Writing the Breakout Novel.

mary rosenblum

But he is simply presenting the structural formula for a thriller.

mary rosenblum

It isn't going to work for every type of story.

mary rosenblum

Trying to force YOUR story into a particular mold may well be its undoing if it won't fit that mold.

mary rosenblum

That said, if you want to write for a very formulaic market like Romance or some of the mystery lines... (not all)...

mary rosenblum

then you really do need to understand that formula and design your story to work within its limits.

mary rosenblum

If you just want to write a 'good novel', write it.

mary rosenblum

THEN figure out where you can take it.

mary rosenblum

SF by the way, is one of the genres that is pretty relaxed about structure. :-) Like mainstream.

lore alley

Mary, I missed the "ends" forum. I was wondering if I need to know the end of the story when I begin? Sometimes it comes to me as I write, and sometimes it changes completely. Is that okay?

mary rosenblum

Lore, it's a good idea to know what you think it's going to be when you start...simply...

mary rosenblum

because if you do not, you may find that you have wandered all over the landscape on your way to the end...

mary rosenblum

you finally achieve, and then you'll have to go back and do a LOT of rewriting.

mary rosenblum

BUT, on the other hand, your end derives from the central conflict in the book...

mary rosenblum

and you may find that this central conflict shifts and redefines itself as your characters and situations become real.

mary rosenblum

And your original end may not fit. I frequently find that I have a different end than the one I originally envisioned.

cosmos

But there needs to be certain elements in all stories. Right? If you understand the basic structure then you can be creative with how you tell the story. At least then you know it's in there. I would appreciate a forum on parallel construction. OR are you saying that in mainstream and SF, anything goes. You can start with an idea and see where it carries you.

mary rosenblum

Yes, I am, cosmos. But also, yes, you still need structure.

mary rosenblum

Some writers couldn't explain the structure of their well published stories if their lives depended on it. :-) It's a matter of what 'feels right'.

mary rosenblum

But essentially, the structure of a story is pretty simple, large or small...

mary rosenblum

it is compelling characters with a problem that matters to us, and a resolution that has an impact.

mary rosenblum

There are many many ways to get there. It's not a matter of 'give your character a problem'...

mary rosenblum

and in the next scene, he makes progress toward solving it, and then for two scenes he is defeated, then he makes progress, is defeated, and now do the climax.

mary rosenblum

I'ts not that cut and dried...although there ARE books out there that will tell you to do just that.

mary rosenblum

The Seven Point Plot being one infamous one that sets my teeth on edge!

gwanny

writing a novel is sort of like climbing a mountain isn't it? You climb, and reach a shelf where you examine your next move. You keep that up 7 or 8 times, until you reach the peak. Going down the other side is sort of a straight slide. Is that about right?

mary rosenblum

Cool analogy, gwanny! Sure FEELS like climbing that mountain at times, LOL.

mary rosenblum

This is the Tuesday Forum with me, Mary Rosenblum, LR Web Editor, fiction and nonfiction writer. We're talking about that desert of a middle. If you're new here, remember that you need to click on the 'Ask a Question' button or the 'word bubble' next to the red question mark at the top of the screen, or use the ask a question icon in order to ask a question. Your regular 'send' bar won't reach me! You can also type /ask in front of your question to reach me.

mary rosenblum

Essentially, cosmo, to get back to structure and what it does...

mary rosenblum

it's a matter of dramatic peaks and valleys...

mary rosenblum

building toward that final climax and resolution.

mary rosenblum

Balancing your main plot and subplots if you're working on a novel...

mary rosenblum

so that you don't ignore the main plot for five chapters!

mary rosenblum

I really would pick out a book that you think is very powerful...

mary rosenblum

and whose plot you felt was strong...

mary rosenblum

and outline it chapter by chapter.

mary rosenblum

It will give you some insight into how the author used those dramatic arcs.

cosmos

Then it's okay to just start out and go on an adventure, like gwanny says.

mary rosenblum

Sure. There is NOTHING wrong with that. Just be willing to revise and change...

mary rosenblum

because in all likelyhood you will need to do some big changes once you know what your story's shape is.

mary rosenblum

That is how I wrote when I first started out.

mary rosenblum

I didn't have a clue where I was going.

mary rosenblum

once I got there, I went back and made the story work all the way through.

mary rosenblum

Looootss of work. I"m lazy and I write MANY fewer words for each project now. :-)

mary rosenblum

But it took me time to be able to see structure rather than figure it out by doing it.

nicole098

this sentence "I knew it belongs to me." Would I add ed or s

mary rosenblum

It's I knew it belonged to me, nicole. Knew is past tense. The verb tenses need to agree, so we need belonged, not belongs. :-)

cosmos

I'm keeping a large notebook for book notes on books I'm reading to analyze plot, etc.

mary rosenblum

Great way to do it, cosmos. :-)

mary rosenblum

It's much easier to see craft in other peoples work than in your own.

lore alley

I prefer to have an idea first. but I have a few stories that I have NO idea where they're going. I just know that I LOVE the characters

mary rosenblum

Laughing, lore. I STILL do that now and again!

mary rosenblum

I am a little over halfway through a 10,000 words YA fantasy due for an anthology in November...

mary rosenblum

I had a really cool dream and just started with that. :-) Had NO clue where the story was going, how it would end...

mary rosenblum

and it has been slow going because of that, but fun. :-)

bettyp

Does becoming a writer ruin your love for reading?

mary rosenblum

No, betty, but it does make you a much pickier reader, sigh.

mary rosenblum

You'll find that you just aren't tolerant of bad writing and there is a lot of it out there.

mary rosenblum

I'm back.

mary rosenblum

Got to watch for that hole in the stage floor.

bettyp

example Dorothy Garlock-formula obvious but fascinating

mary rosenblum

Yeah, the more you write, the more your tolerance tends to shrink, betty. :-)

seigfried007

LOL again Mary! my behemoth started as a nightmare that was too weird not to do something with--it just took me forever to get the idea that would combine teh dreams!

mary rosenblum

dreams are useful at times, Seig. :-)

mary rosenblum

There really is nothing wrong with just sitting down and writing, see where the characters take you.

mary rosenblum

That doesn't mean your job is done at the end of draft one...

mary rosenblum

once you know the characters and their story...

mary rosenblum

it's your job to make it a strong story and make sure they are real to the readers, not just to you.

mary rosenblum

This is the Tuesday Forum with me, Mary Rosenblum, LR Web Editor, fiction and nonfiction writer. We're talking about that desert of a middle. If you're new here, remember that you need to click on the 'Ask a Question' button or the 'word bubble' next to the red question mark at the top of the screen, or use the ask a question icon in order to ask a question. Your regular 'send' bar won't reach me! You can also type /ask in front of your question to reach me.

mary rosenblum

One of the ways you can help yourself if you find yourself stalled in the middle of a story or a novel...

mary rosenblum

is to simply find something to throw in the path of your MC.

mary rosenblum

Use your imagination. What complication will make your MC's life difficult in an interesting way?

mary rosenblum

Look at your other, minor characters.

mary rosenblum

Can you cause some kind of conflict between MC and someone else?

mary rosenblum

Can you throw in an external event that will complicate matters? Car crash?

mary rosenblum

Lost child?

mary rosenblum

Visiting Mother in Law?

mary rosenblum

Of course you'll have to find a way to make it matter to the main plot and make it plausible.

mary rosenblum

But that's your job as author. It really is sweat-labor at times. :-)

mary rosenblum

Some of my strongest scenes have come about because I had to do something about a flat middle...

mary rosenblum

so I came up with some kind of complication that turned out to really support the plot...

mary rosenblum

and really improve the story.

mary rosenblum

If you find yourself bogged down start playing the 'what if' game.

mary rosenblum

What if this happened? What if that happened?

mary rosenblum

Extrapolate, see how it affects your story.

mary rosenblum

The middle of the story gives you room to develop your character (internal) conflict, if it is not your main conflict...

mary rosenblum

or to add interesting external conflicts if the internal IS you main conflict.

mary rosenblum

It's a good place to put in a bit of romance.

mary rosenblum

A small conflict with another character that gives your MC greater insights or understanding at the end of the story or even at the climax.

mary rosenblum

A very common problem with novice writers is that they get TOO focused on their main plot.

mary rosenblum

Relax and throw in some interesting side trips.

mary rosenblum

Even in a short story, you have room for a brief and vivid encounter...

mary rosenblum

that affects the way your MC deals with the end.

mary rosenblum

BUT...do make sure that these small conflicts and subplots do matter in some way to the main plot.

mary rosenblum

Or they will be pretty obvious for what they are...devices to add interest to a flat middle.

mary rosenblum

It may also be the case that you simply have so many subplots and characters that your middle has become 'blurry', the main plotline lost...

mary rosenblum

as you try to follow all the various charaters and their doings.

mary rosenblum

That might be what's giving you trouble, seig.

seigfried007

LOL!!

mary rosenblum

A lot of flat middles are simply too long.

mary rosenblum

Character travel interminably.

mary rosenblum

Nothing much happens.

mary rosenblum

You may simply need to take a huge tuck in that middle and add more scenes to beginning and end.

seigfried007

11+1 POV characters... leaves a lot of room if you make sure that each has his/her/its own issues to resolve... and leave room for intrigue...

seigfried007

or too much happens

mary rosenblum

That is an AWFUL lot of POV characters, seig! Whew!

mary rosenblum

I think I'd have a hard time keeping 'em all straight!

seigfried007

and that's not all the major characters--i'm chronicalling a sci-fi war...

seigfried007

end-of-the-world type stuff

mary rosenblum

Sounds as if you might want to think about structuring this as a multibook series and focus on say, three or maybe four characters per book, seig.

mary rosenblum

Do an overarching plot and divide it into three standalones, linked by that greater plot.

seigfried007

bout ready to rush to the finish, ignore tying the knots, and throw it at people to read

mary rosenblum

Reader feedback is probably a good idea, seig. :-)

mary rosenblum

It always is, in my opinion.

mary rosenblum

To sort of sum things up, middles really don't need to be a desert...

mary rosenblum

and they can seem like it because either not enough happens or too much happens

mary rosenblum

Using your imagination to add new obstacles to your character(s) lives is one way to add to the middle.

mary rosenblum

It's a great place to deepen character through character conflicts.

mary rosenblum

It may also need a few tucks if you simply detail action that doesn't need to be detailed...

mary rosenblum

or may need to be simplified if you simply have too many characters all demanding their time on stage.

mary rosenblum

Well, this has been a fun 'Oregon Hour'. :-)

mary rosenblum

I'll post the transcript in the usual place: Writing Craft: Forum Transcripts.

mary rosenblum

Do drop in here tomorrow...

mary rosenblum

same time...for our casual chat.

mary rosenblum

We just get together to talk about whatever.

mary rosenblum

Thanks for coming all, and have a good day!

mary rosenblum

Good luck with your eleven POV characters, seig!

mary rosenblum

See what your readers say.

mary rosenblum

Bye all!

 

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