My Novel is a Doughnut: It’s Got a Hole in the Middle (by Jane Webb)

Beginnings, Middles and Ends.  A novel can grind to a stop on any of those three parts but does anyone else feel that for the 50,000 NaNo extravaganza the middle section is always the worst?

I love the pep-talks that always accompany each NaNo event.  I am in my third year of NaNo now, and I have been encouraged and motivated by the wonderful advice and companionship NaNo offers on more than one occasion.

There is one pep-talk however – one piece of advice – which, whilst it certainly gets the creative juices flowing again when they stop, does nothing for the BIG HOLE that quickly appears in the middle of the novel if you are not fully planned, ready and prepared by October 31st.  Which I never am.

The pep talk given, and good advice it is, is that when you get stuck go and write a bit you find more interesting.  Do the fun parts that are not any work.  Leave the more ordinary parts that do not immediately inspire you but which every novel needs, to some later date if you get stuck.  I even recall advice from an earlier year which said go and write anything else, whether it fitted with the novel or not, if you came to a full stop.  The idea being just to get the imagination and flow going again.

Most of us recognise that 50,000 words is only the start.  The final novel will be much more than this.  So concentrating on parts of the novel we can do easily, even if they are out of synch, does not seem so unreasonable.  Particularly when we have the NaNo deadlines to work to and targets to achieve.  And an inevitable editing process to come at some later stage.

For me, the middle part of my story is the place where the novel disappears, into some deep hole.  In fact it is not really a doughnut with a hole at all, because that has a path that connects everything to each other part.  The middle of my novel is more like two great mountainous crags, with a huge ravine stretching between them.  If there is still a rickety broken bridge connecting them, it clearly is going to collapse the moment I step onto it.  Although probably it has already fallen away.  How to cross from the start of my novel to the end of my novel, where there is no bridge between the two?  Should I leap off into the void?  Well, maybe.  But if so, I should tie a rope to the start and it needs to be long enough and strong enough for me to tie it to the other mountain when I get there.  I have to connect the two – my start and my finish – and I can’t even see the bottom of the abyss in the middle.

I will have done the beginning, and I would have felt that went great.  I will be pleased with it.  No problems to set the characters up, play with their names, their idiosyncracies, their likes and dislikes.  To think about who they are and what they are like.  It’s fin.  And no trouble to set the scene.  TO create the world around them.  I know what my characters intend to do and where they are going to do it.  And I know also what happens once they have done it.  What effect they are going to have had, by the last page.  So I can write the end easily, just as I have written the beginning.  I know exactly how things end in my story.  I also have some nice little sections written where my characters do some fun but not necessarily all that relevant things.  Filler and experimental scenes.  My ideas going off at tangents.  But I like my characters doing those things for now.  Even if they have to be edited out later.

In fact, they have been doing those things while I have been contemplating the edge of this ravine.  Now they are all coming up behind me and looking over the edge too.

“What?  You expect us to step off and survive that?” they are saying.  “What is going to happen to us?  What health and safety procedures have you put in place?” and “You never said you were going t kill us all off, halfway through!”

So now they start to look angry and defiant.  Not at all the predicatable, malleable characters I thought I had created.  And not brave.  I thought I had created heroes.  Hadn’t I?  To tackle all the obstacles that were to come their way before their tale was told?

But no.  They are insisting on actors’ union rights.  They will play their parts but I have to provide the script first.  No ad-libbing.

Damn.  I don’t think I can have my authority challenged in this way.  I don’t think my book will work if my characters don’t let me have my way.  There is only one thing for it.

“All hold hands,” I say.  And when they do, I step forwards quickly and push them all over the edge, into the great cavernous ravine that is the middle of my book.  I leap myself just seconds later.

See you on the other side (I hope).


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