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Dec 20, 2012

The Dilemming of the Middle

I'm having a nice time-out for a couple of days while waiting for the print proofs and cover for Shaky Ground. It's time to reflect.

I don't usually blog about writing (who the hell needs that), but in the course of a discussion in our critique group, Richard mentioned the quandaries of writing long versus short fiction, it got me going. Another member of the group also distracted me by mentioning hand puppets, and I laid in bed this morning trying to get the picture of Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop out of my head. I think my brain is trying to destress, but it's going about it in a very weird way.

a blue-haired dilemming
For the past two years, I've been concentrating my efforts on learning how to write long. Not 'how to write a novel' per se - to paraphrase Gaiman, you only learn to write the novel you're currently writing. But writing long has different requirements than writing short, one of which is sustaining a story for 100,000 words. Which means solving the very difficult problem, what I call, the dilemming* of 'the middle', in addition to the beginning and the end. I've put down two books lately that failed 'the middle'. Both were contemporary fantasy, fast-paced with lots of supernatural stuff. Just my kind of thing. I didn't even get halfway with either of them before the 'meh' factor kicked in. But I will pick them up again. Someday. Maybe. Maybe I just got sidetracked. Maybe not.

I have huge qualms about middles at the moment. Is it showing? Or is it just these jeans? I guess I'm mostly afraid about my own 'middle' of the upcoming book - will my readers think it 'meh' - or any book I'm writing, really.  While the beginning has to grab, titillate and propel the reader into the novel, make them care about the characters and what's going to happen to them, and the end has to satisfy by justifying every premise set up in the beginning, the middle has to weave us into, through, and around the story, keep us turning the pages, and make us think about the darn thing enough that we pick up the same book the next day (or not be able to put it down and turn off the light). While I wouldn't say beginnings and endings are easy, middles are the pancreatic cancer of most stories - it's very hard to detect what's wrong, you don't feel it while you're writing, and when you do figure it out, it's often fatal.

Writing short requires making a story complete and beautiful and perfect in less than 10,000 words. I admire people who can do that. Since I've been reading submissions for Albedo One, there's usually only one story (two at the most, on average) in a batch that I read all the way through. Middles are a huge dilemming for short stories as well, and that's where I usually get stuck. Endings are a different problem and just as huge, but we'll save that for another day.

I wouldn't say it takes more skill to write short than long. It's a different skill. Most writers seem better at one than another. Some can do both. I'd like to be one of the latter, but I'm not there yet. Not even close.

Okay, back to reading a 1700's Scottish Highland romance (no, not that one, another one). I'm just getting to the middle and still have hopes for this one despite the gushiness of the protagonist. 

What are your biggest writing dilemmings these days?

*a cross between a small mammal who throws itself off cliffs and an intractable problem.

photo credit: the foosel via photopin cc