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Monday, November 2, 2009

Shoes I Must Keep

Do you remember my series of posts about organizing my shoe shelf and how it reminded me of revisions? If not you can read them here, here, here, here, and here. Anyway, this picture is the result. (Well, partial result. I couldn't get the whole shelf in the picture, but you get the idea.) Every single pair of shoes that I kept had to stay. They each served a purpose. This is how the scenes in our writing should be. Each one should serve a purpose. In The Fire in Fiction, Donald Maass discusses this at length and points out that authors often fail at this, especially in the middle parts of the book. It is drilled into our heads how important beginnings and endings are, so we tend to focus on these areas. But aren't our middles just as important? Maass gives us tips for making our middle scenes just as unforgettable as our beginnings and endings, and I'll be discussing this topic for the rest of the week. According to Maass, dialogue is a powerful tool during our middle scenes. It can help define the purpose of the scene; it can help build tension; and it can pump fire into otherwise forgettable scenes. Yes, it can do all of this, if it is strong and taut. So, how do we accomplish that? Well, Maass suggests stripping our dialogue down, and then pumping it back up. In other words, get rid of all incidental action and any unnecessary attributives. If the action doesn't tell the reader something, and the attributive isn't needed for clarification, it only bogs down the scene. Are your middle scenes as pumped up as your beginnings and endings, or could they use a little work? Have you tried tightening up the dialogue? On another note, I'd like to thank those of you who have recently given me an award. I am flattered and grateful. You guys are the best!

45 comments:

Robyn Campbell said...

Susan, I am very glad I'm reading this book. Almost finished, btw. In my MG novel the middle was awful. I deleted about 5 whole chapters and made it so much better by using dialogue, and exploring the two MC's moods and inner selves. I have stripped dialogue down before. It works wonderfully.

Oh and could you come here and help me organize the shoes and well, just the entire closets? :) Have a great day.

Robyn Campbell said...

Congrats on the awards too. You deserve 'em! :)

Paul Greci said...

Great post, Susan. One of the things I'm working on now is the middle section of a WIP, whittling away words, trying to make everyone count.

Tess said...

Looking forward to this information -- my middles sometimes sag and lag and bag.

Roni @ FictionGroupie said...

Great points. Sometimes it's easy to forget about the middle scenes because we're so focused on getting to the big reveals/finale etc.

Jody Hedlund said...

Great advice, Susan! Thanks for sharing it. I will have to keep this in mind as I go through my rewrites!

Tamika: said...

I really am learning so much from your blurgs on this book. I have decided not to start reading it yet, even though the suspense is killing me!

Stop by my blog I have an award for you!

Happy writing.

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

I'm really trying to tighten my middle scenes. My problem is that I'd rather read/write commentary than dialogue, so I'm having to learn how to do that. It's actually fun, but I do want to get better at it!

Karen said...

The middle is ESSENTIAL if you want your readers to care enough to go from the beginning to the end. I can't tell you how many books I have forced myself to suffer through, or have given up completely, because they lost me after the first 50 pages or so.

It's important to find the balance between keeping up the action and throwing in scenes just for the sake of prolonging the story.

Kristi Faith said...

I love dialogue, but my middles are just...well, fat. I get lost, start panicking about the ending, wondering if it's making sense and tend to overwrite. Great post about one of the remedies. :)

Great awards, congratulations! :)

Patti said...

I had a friend say that the beginning and end of each chapter need to be like the beginning and ending of your book. They need to hook the reader and keep the reader wanting to continue.

The middle is definitely something I need to work on and I had a lot of unnecessary dialogue that one of my beta readers totally slashed. I've learned to love slashing.

strugglingwriter said...

My beginnings are definitely my most thought out and also have the most energy due to the "start of a project power boost". This is something I hope to work on.

Carolyn V. said...

Ohhh, I love that! I'm working on the middle of my story right now, trying to keep it exciting. But it's hard. Love this post!!! Woo hoo! Thanks Susan

Deb@RGRamblings said...

I think I'm worried the most about my beginning, it lags big time. Might have to cut several chapters and rewrite the first half...

storyqueen said...

I am trying to write this WIP as a series of scenes, as opposed to a straight through narrative. If there is no purpose for the scene, then it doesn't need to exist.....right?

I'll let you know how it goes.

Shelley

Julie Dao said...

This is a really good point. It's easy to let the middle of the story lag in favor of writing a hook-'em beginning and a meaningful end. Congrats on all your awards!

Danyelle said...

Excellent post. If our middles are middling, there's a chance the reader will never make it to the brilliant ending. I try to have mini archs in each scene as well as through the entire novel to keep things going. :)

Matthew Delman said...

Thinking of each chapter as a self-contained short story has really helped me with making them pop. There has to be something in each that moves the story forward -- an examination of character, an explanation of the past, a look into the future -- whatever it is, there needs to be an event that keeps pace with the rest of the book.

Otherwise what's the point? If each chapter doesn't get across a point, then you've lost the reader once they get past the opening.

Anissa said...

You don't even want to see my shoe shelf. It's a little embarrassing.

And as for that dreaded middle, I'm tackling it now in my revisions. Lots to do, that's for sure!

Jennifer Shirk said...

Beleive it or not, I don't have a problem with middles or even endings. It's the dang beginning that I struggle with. It always reads a little flat to me but then my story has no where to go but up. LOL!

Heather Sunseri said...

Thanks, Susan, for the tips. I'm trying to cut all unnecessary dialogue and scenes, for that matter.

Angie Muresan said...

The best thing about your blog Susan is that I'm learning all this great info as I go along. Thank you for that!

Girl in My Own World said...

Yes. I totally agree with this the middle is truly what carries the story. The beginning is what catches you and the end can be a deal breaker, but if the middle is lacking then what is the point to continue. It is a very good point to keep in mind. All parts of the novel should be our best work.

Isn't that how life can be as well. We are so excited and the beginning and focus alot of our attention on the outcome of the matter, but the middle is not always the exciting or fun. The middle, however, is what leads you to the end and not to be counted out. I don't know. Just some thoughts. :o) Great post!

Kathy said...

Yes, the middle is so important but probably the hardest part to write.

Stephanie Faris said...

Middles are the toughest parts for me. That's where you have to flesh it all out, make it neatly go toward the ending you have mapped out in your head. That's where I go nuts! But usually it all comes together...it's just where I usually am tempted to say to heck with it and toss the manuscript!

~Ellie Kings~ said...

I'm still in the beginning so I cant say much of the middle yet :) This is always helpful!

Cindy said...

Maass had some great advice on pumping up the scenes. I read this book while working on the outline to my NaNo manuscript. When I finish writing it, I plan on going through The Fire in Fiction again and applying some of his exercises to many of the scenes.

Jessie Oliveros said...

Great post. I'm excited to read more this week. My middle definitely needs pumping up, and I've heard Maas recommended by a few others.

Beth said...

I'm working on my middle right now (not my stomach, my MS...although, my stomach could use some work, too!). I will be remembering these tips as I go along...thanks!

Rae said...

Congratulations on all your awards.

Regina Quentin said...

The middle of my current WIP definitely needs some pumping up. I think the dialogue is good, but not great and I really want it to be unforgettable. I really need to read some of this Donald Maass.

Natalie said...

Oooo, I need middle help! I'm not technically supposed to be reading blogs this week (I'm trying to focus on writing) but I'll tune in for this series :)

staceyjwarner said...

every word written is important...

much love

Girl Meets Gun said...

I totally struggle with this! The middle is always the worst part for me. I can come up with the plot and put action in when it's needed, but actually filling the rest in with ideas that are actually necessary to the story that aren't real big scenes is always a pain! I trudge through it til the next big action sequence takes place. This is a good point for writers!

Janna Qualman said...

Dialogue is a strong suit for me; it's the narrative surrounding it I have trouble with. During the first draft, especially.

Cute shoes! ;)

Midlife Jobhunter said...

"But aren't our middles just as important?"

That where I am in my book. Also where many writers give up (and where mine has been stuck for some time.) Hard to keep up.

Eileen Astels Watson said...

As I start a brand new story, I keep asking myself these questions as I type away. Is this important enough, how can I make even more valuable. What goal is being challenged here? Oh what fun we writers have!

MG Higgins said...

I bought Fire in Fiction this weekend! Can't wait to start reading it.

Melanie's Randomness said...

This post reminds me of TV shows too as well as writing. Usually the first few episodes are seriously like Omg, heart pounding, & great then they start to wane off, which like books you sometimes get lost in the middle, than you lose interest and sometimes will skip pages. ya know? =)

Erica said...

Great post, yet again. Sorry I haven't been back for a while work and NaNo are kicking my butt, so I may post here and there this month...

Middles are the worst. I say my dialogue outloud, that helps me take out the unnecessary stuff. I really want to read that book!!

Lily Robinson said...

This is where I am now! There are important parts to the story, but they don't have the punch that the rest of the story has. I've been trying to put more excitement into it. Now, I'm just going to write it and work on it during the editing... (Just like you told me to.)

GutsyWriter said...

Since my chapters are about various adventures our family had in Belize, I think, or at least I hope, they are still of interest to my readers. For example, we were threatened by Hurricane Ivan, two weeks after moving to the island of Ambergris Caye, and had no clue what to do. That's one of my middle chapters.

WhisperingWriter said...

Oh yeah, my middle needs a lot of work.

I'll definately have to cut out some scenes and add some others in.

Sherry Dale Rogers said...

Yes congratulations indeed.

The I think is the most important part, to me when I read a book...the beginning is read fast as I am eager to turn the page...the middle is when I slow down and dwell in the story, enjoy it to savor the moments...the end is when I spead up cause I can't wait to find out how...well...it ends.

So to me the middle is the most important part.

Shelli said...

i love your shoe analogies :)