Saturday, 23 June 2018

The Problem of the Boggy Middle

I am writing the first draft of a novel and it is mince.

I write from a plan, much as I walk from a map and, like a walk, a story has many different options for getting from A to B.

This is a map of a walk I did the other day. It’s also one of the favourite walks of my protagonist, DCI Jude Satterthwaite, who likes a quick stroll to clear his head.

Jude, in solving a crime, knows the beginning and the end, as do I. It begins with a crime and it ends with an arrest. So it is with a walk. It begins at the car park and it ends at your destination, in this case, Blea Water. 

Unfortunately, things aren’t always so simple. You will see that this map has all sorts of possibilities — a positive spider’s web of wonderment. But when you get to the ground, your options are rather more limited. Because, bluntly, a lot of these routes that are marked on the map are utterly invisible on the ground, and the ones that are there have a nasty tendency to peter out in the middle of nowhere. 

In my walk, as in my writing, I have to make sudden sideways jumps to accommodate them. (Don’t worry. In draft 2 I’ll go back and sort them out.) In the meantime, at least I have two options. I'll pick one.

 But the big problem, dear reader, is marked in green. 

It’s a bog. And to get from A to B, from the crime to the arrest, from the beginning to the end, we have go through it. There is no way round. High road, low road. You end in the bog.

This is where I am right now. 

In a draft of — say — 75,000 words the first third is easy, and the last is easy. The middle third, known to writers as the saggy, or as I now call it, boggy, middle, is where all the things you need to do to get from A to B get shovelled in to a big heap, a random selection scenes. Get to the end of it. Sort it out later. 

I’m at 34,000 words right now, and I’m not so much heading through mud as jumping from tussock to tussock and hoping the next one I land on will bear my weight. It’s an energy-sapping experience but, I tell myself, it’ll be worth it. And when I finally finish it, I hope my readers enjoy the view. 

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