So there I was, approaching the midpoint of the ninth Liss MacCrimmon mystery (no title yet), when I hit another of those obstacles that crop up every single time I write a novel. Yes, that’s right. I ran headlong into the middle-of-the-book blahs, where the plot is chugging along okay and the characters have all taken on distinct personalities and I know who the villain is and how the book is going to end but . . . and that’s a BIG but! . . . I was having a really hard time dragging myself to the computer every morning to crank out the next scene.
Partly, that was because I didn’t have anything particularly exciting in mind for the day’s pages. Mostly, it was because I’d been working on this opus just about every day for weeks. I wasn’t tired of it. Not exactly. Nor bored. Exactly. But I wasn’t as revved up as I was at the beginning when everything was fresh.
NOTE: Refer back to my post on “the hardest part” if you’ve forgotten what I wrote about the early days of crafting a new novel. http://mainecrimewriters.com/kaitlyns-posts/the-hardest-part
So, how did I get out of the doldrums? First let me say that although I usually do manage it, there was one time recently when I didn’t. I started a stand-alone novel a couple of years ago with the idea that my agent could sell it on a proposal. That meant I needed to write a synopsis and the first one hundred pages or so. I came up with the requisite chunk of text, but by page one hundred (manuscript pages), when books these days tend to run less than three hundred, I was officially in the middle of the book. That’s when I realized that I didn’t know where I wanted the story to go. And that I’d pretty much lost interest in trying to make changes in what was already there to make it easier to sell. I knew I’d do something with the material someday, since I’m never one to let ideas go to waste, but at that point (October 2012) I set the manuscript aside and more or less forgot about it.
I don’t have that option here. I’m under contract to deliver the manuscript of Liss #9 on the first of September and it’s supposed to be at least 75,000 words in length. There was another difference, too. I was pretty happy with most of what I’d written. It’s building toward the denouement I have in mind. But, were I to keep writing from my miscellaneous notes, I’d be typing THE END on my rough draft when it was still less than 50,000 words in length.
Obviously, I needed to do more than just up the word count. Padding is always a bad idea. Most traditional mystery novels weave together the mystery plot (the sleuth discovering who dunnit) with one, and sometimes two, subplots. Usually a subplot involves an aspect of the sleuth’s private life. It could be a romantic dilemma, conflict with another character, or a secondary mystery that needs solving. Whatever it is, it needs to add depth to the novel and aid in character development. As a happy side effect, it increases the word count. Ideally, the plot and subplot are inseparable.
I began writing Liss #9 without a subplot in mind. There are other things going on besides the sleuthing, but nothing that intertwines with the main plot throughout the novel. That meant my biggest problem was easy to identify, but not so easy to cure.
The extreme solution (surgery) would be to toss out everything I’d written and start over from scratch. I wasn’t about to do that. There was too much about the WIP that I did like. What would have been most convenient, a “Eureka!” moment while washing the dishes or taking a shower (for some reason, immersion in water seems to promote creativity), did not materialize. Darn! So much for physical therapy. I was going to have to fall back on a tried and true course of treatment, one that has worked in similar situations in the past.
When I was writing as both Kaitlyn Dunnett and Kate Emerson (non-mystery historical novels) I’d work on one type of book for awhile and then, when I needed a break or ran out of steam, I’d switch to the other. My subconscious would noodle whatever problems I was having with Book One while I was working on Book Two. When I hit a wall with Book Two, I’d go back to Book One armed with fresh ideas and renewed enthusiasm. Since there are no more Kate Emerson books on the horizon and since, writing as Kathy Lynn Emerson, I finished Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe before I began work on Liss #9, I had no “other” project in the works and, until Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe sells, I don’t want to do more toward a second book in that series than scribble down ideas.
Thank goodness the “cure” for my middle-of-the-book woes is somewhat flexible. After a couple of days of moping around the house without opening Liss#9text.doc, I belatedly remembered the hundred pages of that unfinished stand-alone. No, I was not suddenly inspired to finish writing that novel, but within those hundred pages there were several scenes where the protagonist encounters crime. It had already occurred to me that one or more of those incidents could be turned into a short story. My hope was that writing a short historical mystery would give me the same kind of break from writing a contemporary humorous mystery that working on a non-mystery historical had.
I can’t guarantee this cure with work for everyone, or even that it will work every time for me, but in this case it definitely helped. By the time I’d polished two short stores about Old Mother Malyn, a mid-sixteenth century herb woman, healer, and finder of lost things, and her granddaughter Joan (the “Watson” character), I’d come up with an idea for a subplot for Liss #9. How well it will work remains to be seen, as does whether either of these short stories will find a publisher, but I’m pleased to report that I’m now back at work on Liss #9. My stalled enthusiasm for the project has been jump started.
Stay tuned in a month or so for a post about the next hurdle, the end of the book, where I’ll no doubt be struggling to come up with a thrilling climax while also finding just the right words to bring the story to a close.
P.S. This afternoon I stopped by one of my favorite blog sites and lo and behold Dana Cameron is talking about this same subject. Here’s the link: http://femmesfatales.typepad.com/