Wednesday, 3 September 2008

The Leaden Mean - N M Browne

What is it about middles? I don’t mean the bit of flab that sits where one’s waist ought to be, but the middle of a novel (where in truth there is often a bit of extra padding where the plot should be.)

Normally I like middles – I mean the middle of a sandwich is always the best bit – as a kid I never ate the bread.I was also extremely good at deconstructing Jaffa cakes so I could be left to savour the delicious orangey bit in the centre. Even today when eating cream cake I’m quite likely to skip the cake and go straight for the cream. The middle of the year is good, the middle way had a certain appeal and I’m even finding middle age tolerable, but I hate writing the middle section of books.

In the beginning there is that excitement – this is ‘The One’ – the breakthrough book, the best thing I’ve done. At the end there is the promise of those two wonderful little words ‘the end’ when all is resolved and the damn thing (note no longer ‘The One’ – just another one) is finished. The middle, however, is just all that stuff that makes the story work – I think it’s called plot and then there’s character development and world building and ... Well, the middle is just graft - the hard yards through which the shiny new idea is dulled and tarnished by much thought and occasional reworking.

I left my current book at the beginning of the summer at the mid-point, the middle of the middle. I do not know what I was thinking! Take it from me, you should NEVER leave a book in the middle. I have done it before and that story never got finished. This current one is lurking at the back of my head, taunting me even as I write this – half formed and whimpering...

I am sooooo past the point of initial enthusiasm and such a long way from the finishing line. I have procrastinated for weeks, but today the kids are back in school, my friends are back in work and I have just run out of excuses. Wish me luck - I’m going to need it.


Nick Green said...

Good luck, indeed!

Interesting what you say about middles usually being the nicest bits, in the cake/biscuit world for example. Perhaps this is the answer? No, not eat more cakes...

When I'm struggling with writing a middle bit, I try to remind myself: people don't read books because they want an exciting end (though they do); they don't read them becuase they want a grabbing opening (though they do want one of those too); readers read books because they want to enjoy them, every page of them, and enjoy the whole experience of being inside them. So I think, as long as one can make each page enjoyable in its own right, it doesn't matter if it doesn't feel as gripping as the beginning or the end. Rather, I think that's where the most interesting stuff takes place. But I agree, it doesn't 'write itself' the way some endings often do.

Good luck!

Lucy Coats said...

Oh Nicky! I do so sympathise. I am in exactly the same place (starting up again after school holidays etc). I've been gnawing away and wrestling with the damn thing in my head all summer, and it's still not talking back. So I've visualised a big cauldron and put it in to bubble away in the background while I do another project. Hopefully some nuggets of gold will rise out of the sludge and up to the top so I will be inspired to continue. Bonne Chance, mon ami! You are not alone in the middle wilderness.

Marie-Louise Jensen said...

I think it's to do with feeling in control. At the beginning you've just got a little bit of story and feel in charge. By the end you are tying up ends and tidying. But in the middle it's easy to feel you've lost the plot (literally!) and there's masses of stuff that needs sorting out. You'll get there!

Damian Harvey said...

I think the problem your having here is comparing writing to the eating of cream cakes. I decided a little while ago that it compares more to the cakes preferred by young children - iced fingers and buns... and like these children we/I lick off the sugary icing with excitement but before I get more than a bite into the hard work of the body of the cake/story I'm tempted by the excitingly sweet top of another. My top draw is full of half eaten buns (or is it stories - I'll have to check)