When The Novel Writing Process Gets Tough… by Nansi Kunze
In last month’s post, I talked about the process I go through when I start a novel. This time I want to look at what happens next, because while making a start is a big step, it’s not necessarily the hardest part of the writing process. For me, at least, the most difficult point is the middle of a novel.
Right back at the start of my novel writing process, when I’m just a couple of pages into my planning book, I already have a solid idea of how my story begins and how I want it to end. The problem is, sometimes those two things don’t join up in the middle quite as neatly as I want them to. For some writers, this tricky point is closer to the end of the story. I was fascinated to learn that the wonderful Shamini Flint – author of the Inspector Singh Investigates series – often doesn’t know how she’ll end her mysteries until she’s almost finished writing, when she takes her husband out to dinner, tells him about the characters and evidence, and then asks him, ‘So, who do you think did it?’ Whatever your method, there may well come a time when you just can’t work out how to proceed. Here are a few ways to get over that tough stage in writing a novel.
- Take a break from your novel manuscript. This might mean not writing anything for a few days, spending some time working on a shorter piece or even trying out a new genre to clear your thoughts.
- If the problem is one of those ‘Aargh! I need all these things to happen, and I can’t work out when and how!’ ones, try making yourself a timeline. As I mentioned in my previous post, I find them very helpful for keeping track of characters and events. Here’s a small section of the two-week timeline I made while writing Dangerously Placed. Obviously, this is just one way to organise a timeline; you might find it more helpful to have columns for each character, or each location, for example.
- If the difficulty is to do with theme or plot arcs, you could try a mind map. Again, there are multiple ways in which these can be drawn. I use a very simple type – it’s really just a visual aid to brainstorming. This is part of a mind map I drew when trying to envisage how to transform the short story that was the basis for Dangerously Placed. Many things, including the protagonist, changed drastically after this mind map was made, but it helped me to move forward.
- Talk to someone about your manuscript. They don’t have to be an expert on writing, just someone whose opinion you value. Sometimes simply explaining your story aloud is enough to make potential solutions apparent, even without the other person’s input.
- If you don’t want to discuss your work with someone else, why not discuss it with yourself? When I’m really struggling with a manuscript, I scribble down my thoughts about the problem in my planning book as if I were talking to someone else. It’s surprisingly effective; here’s a small example, again from my Dangerously Placed planning book.
Whichever method you try, remember that you’re not alone – all writers struggle at some point. Do you have another trick that helps you conquer the toughest sections of your manuscripts? Feel free to share it!