|The Road Ahead|
One important aspect of writing is to discuss the plot line and action with a neutral party – interested but neutral. It helps on a number of fronts:
- Makes you think through the storyline,
- Makes you justify the actions of the players,
- Forces you cleanup neglected details (and ones you forgot),
- Helps to tie up loose ends,
- And gives you an opportunity for the Ah-ha moment when you really discover what’s making the story tick.
I am learning and I learn more with each book. Most thriller writers (novices and nimrods) start with a bold and exciting notion, write the first 10,000 or 20,000 words of brilliant prose as well as a spectacular ending and then are suddenly stuck with the realization that:
- They don’t have a clue how to connect the start with the finale,
- Their characters are in drastic need of redevelopment,
- They have a huge chunk in the middle that feels like crossing Death Valley in a wheelchair,
- And they really, really don’t have an ending.
Sometimes a group-think session, oiled with scotch or other libations, is the answer. I just finished one of these sittings over the weekend.
My father was in town, he’s a frustrated journalism major from our same alma mater Michigan State University – Truman was president when he graduated, I got Nixon. I was wrestling with the story line and had Sharon (see left and right columns, she’s the one with the size six figure), stuck on top of the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice with a drink in her hand and the arch enemy climbing the steps – and I was stuck. We talked about the story, what one character would do and what she wouldn’t. Ideas and liquored flowed (I wish I had Dragon software for voice – I have to get it for the next time one of these sessions strike), and we found a cool solution. It’s good to turn to friends and fathers.
The heart of the novel is often called the muddle in the middle – how to keep the reader and the writer interested until the last quarter of the book. If the reader starts looking at chapter counts, you're dead. And to be honest there are no easy answers, but a good outline or even a chapter by chapter synopsis is critical at this point – like our man in the wheelchair you don’t want to find yourself crossing your own tire tracks.
I have about 10,000 words left to finish, I'm over the muddle and on to the denouement. As I’ve noted before, the 4 Death books are written around a formalized structure – fifteen chapters each broken into three or four sub-chapters, 75-85,000 words total, it works for these stories. For a thriller/mystery this structure helps to push the story to a quick and satisfactory finale. And it also helps to collapse and resolve the middle-muddle blues.