Navigating the mushy middle – I’ve always thought that would be a great title for a book. I’m at that stage with my latest work-in-progress and it seems to be the way my novel writing goes.
Other writers have a problem with deciding where to start the story. I’ve not encountered this particular sticking point yet. Starting is the easy bit. I will sit down to write once I’ve got a few characters in mind and know enough about them to set them off on their journey…which is my journey of discovering where they are going.
So where does the ‘loaded gun’ come into it. My mother reminded me of this piece of advice Chekhov gave to one of his writer friends: “One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of using it.” This theory was expanded to say that if the gun is there in the first act, it must be used by the third. Now story plotters are well aware of this device, commonly known as the Art of Foreshadowing. If they’ve placed a loaded gun on the mantelpiece in the first chapter, they know exactly when, how and why it will go off.
After talking with my mother I realised that the loaded gun theory could also be applied to my next published novel, The Circle Dance (being released on Tuesday 15 March). When I was writing this book and floundering about in the mushy middle wondering which direction the story was going, I realised I had a loaded gun, primed and ready to be used. Someone I thought was only ever going to be a minor character was waiting in the wings. She had a much bigger role to play in the story than I had envisaged when I first introduced her.
Once I’d had this revelation, everything started to fall into place. The mushy middle had been conquered. Other elements in the story came together which led to a surprising conclusion (well it certainly surprised me!).
This no doubt seems a haphazard way of working to those who meticulously plot their novels ahead of time. I admire them, I really do. It would make my life so much easier if I could do it. I also admire, and envy, those who can write the synopsis before they start. This would also be a way not to get mired in the mushy middle and would save me several weeks of agony trying to write a decent summary to send off with my submission to the publisher.
So, back to my current WIP. I’m standing in the swamp, about to sink to my knees in the mushy middle. And I can’t find my loaded gun. I’ll need to go back to the beginning to find out where I left it. It will be there somewhere…in crime writers’ parlance…a vital clue or a red herring.
It would be good to find the gun before I end up fully submerged and abandon all hope of getting out of the bog…and being able to finish the story.
I have to confess that I don’t own a gun, although I do have a recurve bow in the cupboard under the stairs and several longbows leaning against the wall in a corner of the kitchen. They don’t quite fit into the loaded gun analogy and only get taken out to shoot at targets.
Chapter One of The Circle Dance is available to read on the Affinity eBook Press website.
Ebook links for The Starling Hill Trilogy:
(All three books are available on Kindle Unlimited for the next 2 months)