Monday, June 13, 2011

Hitting the Wall

It seems to happen in nearly every book. I don't remember it happening with Swords of Talera, but in every other book I've written I've hit a wall at some point that seems to say: "this far and no further." Beginnings are easy and fun. Endings are harder but still fun. Middles are tough. And I've hit that point with "Under the Ember Star."

I know what the problem is. In the early part of a book, you set up mysteries and questions that help keep the reader reading. But you can't answer every single one of those questions at the end because the ending can't just be explanation. That means you have to insert more and more information as you get further into the work. You have to reveal some answers as you move through the book, without revealing everything. And that inevitably slows down the action and the pacing. That's the point I'm at now.

I spent most of yesterday spinning my wheels, or so it felt like. The chapter I'm working on, even called "Revelations," is all talk and no action. I think the dialogue is revealing info the reader is curious about. I hope so. And I think the information is interesting in its own right, given the reader's curiosity about the world of the story. But I haven't been able to work a lot of conflict into the dialogue. The characters are being too nice to each other for one thing, letting the information be drawn out with little to no resistance. I've got to change that, and shorten the whole chapter so that the lull in the action doesn't go on too long.

Once this chapter is done, I finally know what is going to happen next. It's going to be full of conflict and I'm in a hurry to get there. First, I just have to climb this wall.

Wish me well.
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34 comments:

Paul R. McNamee said...

From my screenwriting days, I still call that "act two sag" (or, "middle act sag".)

Often enough, you know where you'll end, and you're excited to begin, but it's the stuff in the middle that needs the most shoring up.

Hey, David Drake still gets that, too and he's plenty successful. He says he always suddenly feels like the work is about as interesting as a phonebook - regardless of what he is working on.

Like you said. It's a wall. You can go over, or under or around or through - I'm certain you can and will.

laughingwolf said...

g'luck, charles...

a screenwriting trick paul forgot to mention: spoonfeed your reader with essentials all the way through, less of an infodump feeling that way... it may help those nasty middles, too

BernardL said...

If you're in need of dialogue, better fit in a natural but not forced humorous edge in some way. I love reading character dialogue, but if it happens in an information revealing sense, rather than due to a crisis or action, humor spices up the cardboard/monologue aspect.

Tom Doolan said...

I've always found that well-written dialogue can be a good surrogate for action. Especially in an action-oriented book. When reading Mack Bolan novels, I always find that the ones that are just cover-to-cover action scenes get to be tedious. But the ones that break them up with long dialogues and "active exposition" are much more enjoyable.

I think readers need that lull, and even expect it. However, to keep the pace going, good dialogue is essential, and can convey information in a more interesting way than just info-dumping.

Of course, I'm probably preaching to the choir here. :)

Charles Gramlich said...

Paul, the main question is how long will it take me.

Laughingwolf, I've already started going back and inserting bits and pieces here and there, which will help. But that itself takes a lot of time.

Bernardl, in the particularly troublesome scene, the one character is vulnerable at the moment and is revealing perhaps too much. but she catches herself, which I think works. It's a matter of balancing it all out.

Tom, I know you have to have some of those breaks in the action, some lull's, although you don't want them to be too long. Those lulls are neccessary but much harder to write for me.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I seem to write with my back against the wall. To just hit it once would be swell.

Deka Black said...

How about some of the info revealed in a non-voluntary way? I mean, one of the characters trick the other with confusing talk and BAM! theother slips and, without wanting it, reveals something ands taht adds the tension tyou want.

Charles Gramlich said...

Patti, I guess that's one positive side to it. :)

Deka, that's a possibility. I'm going to try to work through it this afternoon.

Chris Benjamin said...

I like the idea of tricking the info out. Another option is blackmail, which ramps up the conflict nicely too. Good luck!

Charles Gramlich said...

Chris, thankee

Barrie said...

I'm sending some writing dust your way! ;)

laughingwolf said...

no question, charles...

Ron Scheer said...

This may not be to the point, but your comment about characters being too nice to each other triggered the thought. My wife has had a stage career, and a technique I learned from her scene work applies to fiction writing as well. That is, to be clear about what each character most deeply WANTS, and thus amp up the conflict between them. A character wanting information, for instance, and another character determined to keep a secret.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

You can do it! And beginnings are most difficult for me.

Ty Johnston said...

The same happens to me. I have three options for dealing with it.

1.) I set the project aside while I go off to edit something else or work on a short story. This usually gives me a week or two away from the original project, and most times somewhere in there I'll come up with what to do.

2.) I just write through it. This is usually painful, and I'm often not pleased with the initial output. But I know I can always go back and edit later.

3.) A man walks in with a gun. In the story, I mean, not in my office.

The Golden Eagle said...

Good luck getting over that wall!

Erik Donald France said...

Good luck, indeed~~ That's funny about the characters being too nice to each other . . . because conflict rocks plot!

Richard Prosch said...

Good luck, Charles. I'm with Stephen King and Kevin J. Anderson...usually I figure out that ugly middle with a good long walk.

Carole said...

I wish you well. I feel confident that you will do well.

Travis Cody said...

Need a grenade to bring the wall down a few bricks? Perhaps a strategically placed claymore?

Angie said...

Empathy. :/ I've been hovering around 40K into Emerging Magic for I'm-not-even-saying how long, and it's massively headdesky. I've written a few other stories along the way, but I need to get through this one before the folks who've read the first book completely forget about it. :P

Luck and scaling ladders! :D

Angie

the walking man said...

Can you look back to the previous portions see what you may have been telegraphing without knowing it and try to make the message get delivered in the words as the writing on the wall?

ninthmuse (roz m) said...

This is the point I dread the most, because it can make you question whether there's any point in writing the damn thing at all. I agree with previous advice to set the manuscript aside. Sometimes your brain'll work through it while you're paying attention to other things. Sometimes you'll experience something in real life that will give you fuel for storytelling.

Charles Gramlich said...

barrie, thanks. I can use it.

laughingwolf, indeed.

Ron Scheer, It is relevant. And I have done that earlier in the book. But here it seems the information has to come out and I’m working on getting it out without it seeming too easy


Alex J. Cavanaugh, thanks. I’ve got lots of beginnings that have never gone anywhere.

Ty Johnston, I’ve been known to use the “man walks in with a gun” thing. Have used it in this book already once. I will probably try option 2 first and then just let that thing sit for a while and see if anything happens. I can write a couple of later scenes, or sketch them out at least.


The Golden Eagle, thankee. I appreciate it.

Erik Donald France, “conflict on every page” is the advice. But it’s easier said than done sometimes.

Richard Prosch, walks help me a lot as well. Right now it’s about 100 past inferno here though, which has cut into my walking.

Carole, thanks. By the way, I have been having a very difficult time posting on your blog, even using Firefox now.

Travis Cody, Maybe I could shout, “Mr. Gramlich, Tear down this wall.” A claymore would probably work better.

Angie, thanks. I know I’ll get through it with something satisfactory, but I’d like it to be better than that.

Mark, I may end up having to go back to the beginning and reread through carefully. That often works for me, though not always.

ninthmuse (roz m), yeah, I hate it when you begin to feel that maybe you’ve just been wasting your time.

X. Dell said...

While I can understand the need for conflict in any story, I've also wondered if a story could have moments where the conflict is relatively less. While obviously that's true for a page or two, the question is really if a relaxed period in a book could possibly heighten or intensify the conflict later.

Michelle's Spell said...

Hey Charles,

All well wishes your way! I feel your pain on this one -- I hate that moment when you hit the wall. I think it means something really great is about to happen and the breakthrough is close. All that wheel spinning pays off, but man, it sucks while it's happening. I hit this point usually at the second to last draft when I'm close, but not quite and really tired -- like the last mile in the movie Black Hawk Down.

Charles Gramlich said...

X-Dell, what I've done in a couple of places is have the two characters start a scene relatively friendly and then end in an argument. This time they kind of have to move past the argument stage. I may end up with not much conflict for a few pages and hope the information is interesting enough to hold the reader.

Michelle, Yes, there are big issues hanging on this one in the story. I've just got to keep hammering at it.

Jodi MacArthur said...

Man, I hear ya. I hit several of those during a novel since I don't write with an outline either. If I can't break through, I just skip that part, and move on to the next. I go back to it later, or save it for the next draft when I have a bigger picture of the conflicts through the book. Great post, Charles.

Vesper said...

I hope you're past that wall already, Charles. Best of luck!
This post resonates with me. I'm having so many doubts about what I am writing... It's not easy to try to see the story from a reader's point of view, who discovers it chapter by chapter, because we already know the whole story...

Lana Gramlich said...

I'm sure that some walks around the neighborhood and some problem-solving in dreams will alleviate the lag, baby. Not to mention your naturally superior writing ability, of course. :)

Charles Gramlich said...

Jodi MacArthur, I end up on the first pass through letting some stuff sit in a pretty raw condition. when you've got a mystery to reveal and are trying to piece it out to the reader it gets particularly tough to do that.

Vesper, I finally got past it yesterday, at least with something adequate, although not great. I'll go back again with the whole thing is done.

Lana Gramlich, you're very sweet.

Kate Sterling said...

"Wish me well."

I'm wishing you well. :)

cs harris said...

Lately I seem to hit a wall very early in the book. Not sure why, but I'm getting tired of it.

Charles Gramlich said...

Kate, thank you very much.

Candy, the last part of this one has been a struggle. I'm making headway but it's like wading through mud.