Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Stuck in the Middle by Alison Henderson

We're all familiar with the dreaded "sagging middle", that bed of quicksand that's sucked the life from many a hardworking writer. Well, I'm smack in the middle of my current manuscript and have to admit it's getting the better of me. It isn't sagging. In fact, I've just finished a major action scene, and the hero and heroine have shared important revelations. That's part of the problem. I have to figure out ways to keep the tension building.

I'm suffering a crisis of confidence. I'm a plotter, and I'm afraid I don't have enough plot to fill the second half of the book. I've got an idea of what happens next, but when I look at my outline, all I see is "growing attraction, humorous scene with the robot, another action scene, couple makes love, climax action scene, HEA." I have details for those scenes, but they won't support another 42K words. I need to do some serious brainstorming, and I've always been lousy at it.

I've never had this problem before, but this story has the most complex mystery/suspense plot I've ever concocted. All four main characters are hiding secrets from at least two of the others. Unbeknownst to each other, the hero and heroine are working undercover on the same case. Suspicions abound, and I'm about to lose my freaking mind. 

It's so hard to remember who suspected what when, and who revealed what to whom at what time. I finally broke down and wrote it up in chronological order, like an outline, but only containing the suspense elements. At least now I can go back and check without having to page through the manuscript trying to find a couple of key sentences. Why did I ever think this story would be fun?

It would probably be easier if I were a faster writer; I might be better at keeping the details straight in my head. It would also be easier if I stuck to a single POV. (I now know why so many mysteries are written in first person.) However, I've always written my romances from both the hero and heroine's points of view. I like getting inside the hero's head, and many of my readers have said they do, too. 

The one saving grace at this point, and what will pull me out of this quagmire of creative anxiety, is that I'm delighted by what I've written so far. When I re-read earlier passages, searching for the details for my outline, I had that wonderful feeling of reading something funny and new, as if I'd had nothing to do with it. That's one of the few benefits of writing slowly. You forget what you wrote a month or two ago and can see it with fresh eyes. By the time I finish the first draft and start revisions and edits, I hope to be thoroughly entertained by the work of a complete stranger. Wish me luck!

Alison
www.alisonhenderson.com  


21 comments:

Margo Hoornstra said...

Here's to you being entertained by the work of some stranger, Alison. Enjoy! I'm a slow writer too. Been struggling with the current wip for some time now. With my pantser ways, something happens in, say, chapter eighteen, then I have to go back toward the front of the book to set that action/scene/character up. Oh the joys of a writer's life. Thanks for letting me know I'm not alone!

Leah St. James said...

You and Margo are definitely not alone, Alison! I'm a slow writer too (like three years on my current WIP slow?), and we all get stuck in the middle, even when those who are master plotters. No matter how structured my outline(which I create in a scene format, in chronological order because that's how my mind works), once I start writing, the characters invariably do or say something that I hadn't plotted (or expected), and it adds an unplanned twist in the structure.

I've been where you are as well (with not enough to fill the rest of the book). Have you considered making it shorter? Or is there still not enough good "action" to sustain the ending?

I'm confident that as you go back and examine what you've got, and what you have planned, you'll come up with a fantastic solution. Can't wait to read the final product some day!

Liz Flaherty said...

Let me join you all there in the quagmire. Good luck on finding your way out and finding that delightful story by a talented stranger!

Brenda Whiteside said...

Oh my gosh, Alison. We're having the same prob...multiple POV, more complicated than prior books. Keep at it!

Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

I'm writing a romantic series with 3 pov's. I told my editor I felt I'd need them all. She was fine with it. Wait until book three, I might have four. I'm not sure yet. I am a pantser. However, I keep major events in my head I want to have happen. My problem is I have the heroine and hero fall in love too quickly and have to go back and insert a chapter to slow down their race toward an HEA so it's more of a fast walk. My deadlines are handed to me, so I must keep at it to meet them. On this book, it's Friday...this Friday of this week...and I have a minimum of 8,000 words to go. AND a shot in my retina this afternoon. SOooo, I will not freak out. I will not freak out. What I will say is I've read your books. I know your talent. You've got this!!!

Rolynn Anderson said...

Alison, we're with you all the way. I'm a pantser, with the vaguest idea with where I'm going. I've never seen more than dimness at the end of the tunnel, so I never get too hopeful about where the end is. Like Vonnie, I usually rush the romance and have to go back and pace it better. The breakout novel guy said: What's the worst thing (to the characters) that can happen? Now make it even worse...and so on.

Obviously he wasn't worried about complexity. And I love to surprise the reader. Now you get to surprise yourself! Mush on, my friend!

Jannine Gallant said...

I was having the same problem with my current WIP. I knew a lot of the suspense elements that had to happen, but couldn't seem to figure out how to work the romance progression into it, and I wasn't sure I had enough to sustain the book, which has to be the same length as the others in the series. Being a panster these days, my ideas were all in my head... Not always a safe place, I've discovered. I finally sat down and wrote two bullet point outlines for each 10,000 word segment of the book, beginning with what I'd already written just to get the flow going. Suspense elements for each section went in the first outline. Then I wrote another one for the romance roller coaster growth. Then I matched the two by their 10,000 word sections to see how they overlapped and where I could build in each part. Surprisingly, something as vague as "cooling off period" in the romance gave me the idea to physically remove my hero. Then "rethink relationship priorities" made me have the heroine follow him. And low and behold, the suspense element for that section worked better in a different venue. I've never tried two separate outlines (even if they only amounted to 9 sentences each) but the strategy did help. Maybe approaching your outline from a different angle would help you, too.

Alison Henderson said...

Apparently you have tons of company, Margo!I think this book is going to involve much more "going back" than I'm used to, but I'll get it. I swear I will!

Alison Henderson said...

Leah, I think this book is going to take about seven months for the first draft - average for me. If I keep plugging away, I should be ready for revisions by the Fourth of July. Like you, I'm a plotter and a linear thinker, so I usually don't have this much trouble. However, as soon as I finished the second outline of what I've written so far, I had and idea for another chapter. I should finish it today. Onward and upward!

Alison Henderson said...

Thanks, Liz! I always seem to surprise myself in retrospect - probably the sign of a rank beginner. LOL

Alison Henderson said...

Brenda, I'm glad to have company for this bumpy road! I wish we could get together this summer to commiserate and compare notes. The Internet will have to suffice.

Alison Henderson said...

Vonnie, I'm having the opposite problem with this book. I've spent so much mental energy on the suspense plot that the romance is getting short shrift. Must go back and add, add, add!

Alison Henderson said...

Rolynn, I'm in awe of pantsters. I'd be paralyzed if I didn't know what was going to happen, although my characters are always full of surprises along the way. So far, I haven't been able to bring myself to follow Donald Maass's advice and do the worst things possible to my characters. (Maybe that's why I've never written a Breakout Novel. LOL.) But even without the ultimate catastrophe, I am indeed mushing on!

Alison Henderson said...

Jannine, your advice is spot-on, as usual. I've encountered the exact same problem with this manuscript. I've focused so much on the suspense that I've neglected to let the romance develop alongside it. My bullet point outline, with timeline, of the suspense plot has helped. Now I'm going to do one for the romance, too. That should help get this where it needs to be. I'm half-way through and they haven't kissed yet. Yikes!

Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

Oh, Alison, my second comment...am I allowed two? I laughed at your couple not kissing yet. I'm worried because mine didn't do the deed until chapter 14. I know my editor will pitch a fit. In my first Highlander book, I couldn't get them together until chapter 20. She said NO ONE will wait that long for sex. I had to put it in chapter 8 in a scene where I didn't really feel it fit. But the editor's the boss. Sooo, when she reads this book and doesn't hit the steamy part until halfway through, I'll be dinged again. Sex sells, she says. I say sex has to make sense for the couple.

andreadowning.com said...

Alison, one of my books has 4 POVs--2 love stories within the one book. It was quite a juggling act and has been commented upon in reviews, so be warned. Like Rolynn, I'm a pantser--I try not to think about my sagging middle (my physical middle is enough for concern, believe me!) I finish the book and then go back--in rewrites, the middle always fills out and,IMHO, contains some of the best writing. You'll be out of that quagmire in no time!

Alison Henderson said...

Vonnie, I'm with you. Sex has to make sense for the couple. The time frame in this story is pretty short, and I just can't see these two characters, who are suspicious of each other with good reason, jumping into bed after knowing each other just a few days. Since I know my editor won't demand it (wink, wink, Jannine), it's not happening.

Alison Henderson said...

Andi, two POVs are about all I can manage. I applaud you for tackling four!

Susan Coryell said...

I find talking out my plot w/ a colleague to be very helpful. He/she asks questions and makes me expand with my answers. Good luck and nice post.

Alicia Dean said...

Wow, it sounds like you have your work cut out for you, but I'm sure you'll figure it out. You are a fantastic writer! I am also a plotter, and I can't imagine going into a book with just an idea and actually getting it written. It sounds like Jannine's plan is a good one. And, Vonnie, isn't that irritating when editors insist on sex in a certain number of pages? I think it seems forced if the story doesn't warrant it or the characters aren't ready. I don't think editors really have a good concept of what readers want. Unless they are reading erotic, I doubt readers are thinking, 'Dang, this is a great book, but I'm ready for some sex. When will it happen????'

Diane Burton said...

What is wrong in the ether? So many of us having problems. I never plot, not at first. With my current WIP, I have most of the plot points...in my head. That's not like me. Maybe that's why I'm dogging around on this project.

I'm glad you're liking what you've written, Alison. Keep going!