Mid-Composition Doldrums

March 7, 2016



When the still sea conspires an armor

And her sullen and aborted

Currents breed tiny monsters

True sailing is dead

Awkward instant

And the first animal is jettisoned

Legs furiously pumping

Their stiff green gallop

And heads bob up

Poise, delicate, pause, consent

In mute nostril agony

Carefully refined and sealed over

Lyrics: Horse Latitudes-The Doors

          There comes a point, in the middle of a novel, when you are at the peak point, the climax, the tipping point where everything that has come before now takes the reader to everything that happens from that moment onward. It is not the denouncement, which is the final part of a play, movie, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved. But it is headed there.

          Sometimes the writer becomes challenged at this point. Everything written has led to this high point. Now resolution of the events, the character’s dilemmas realized, all that was put in motion has to be written, and written convincingly. This can present a problem. If the emphasis and research has been overwhelming for the setting out of the problem, the resolution has been overlooked. Some writers are strong in the setup, but weak in the resolution. The balance must be there. The trick mystery writers use is to write backwards. They compose the last chapter first, revealing murderer and motive. Then they back up to the beginning for the setup. This technique shouldn’t be overlooked by novelist in other genres. You have to know where you are going to end up, before you know where you are going.

          However, often, the writer gets to this peak brilliantly, with interesting and compelling characters introduced and motives outlined, a solid plot moving forward, the climatic events of the final half foreshadowed…then…what? I have hit this point and find it a curiosity. These mid-composition doldrums should not be feared. In actuality, this is where you slow down, nearly stopping. Why? Because you have hit a peak and the other side is a steep slide. One false step and you will tumble down the cliff. Many many writers better than I, have rushed to the end. The writer knows the end and where they want to go. Pacing be darned, let’s finish this sucker.

          I have always followed the dictate that it is not in the writing, it is in the rewriting. So a hurried finish can be corrected with edits and rewriting. But why load on more when you can just acknowledge the tendency to sprint to the end. Put on the brakes. Let yourself wallow at the peak. Savor the moment…and above all, slow slow slow yourself down and take the same time you took getting the peak, as you do reaching the final sentence.

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