Solving Plot Problems – the ‘Halfway Pause’

Seems ironic that I am writing about a pause in my writing when I’ve also had a pause with this blog!  Never mind.  I’m back with a few thoughts on pausing the actual writing part of novel writing.  By the writing part, I mean getting the words down as opposed to plotting, character notes, planning scenes etc.

I came across this idea in one of the first writing craft books I ever read, The Writer’s and Artist’s Guide to How to Write by Harry Bingham.  A great resource if you’ve never had a look at it, especially for a beginner.  In the context of solving plot problems, Harry talks about the one – third pause; essentially stopping about 20-30,000 words in and taking stock.  Asking yourself is this going well, or is it a struggle?  If it’s a struggle he recommends doing a chapter by chapter plan then going back to the overall plan for the book and looking at the characters and the plot, so you can re-think where you are heading.  Your plot needs to feel right.

I hit about 35,000 words (I’m aiming for 70,000 ish so about half way) then had a bit of a panic about my plot and characters.  The way the story was moving along felt right but I was worried that I had forgotten about key themes or characters.  It is so easy to get lost in the volume of words and forget where you are going!  So I stopped writing for a couple of days and did a few things to allay my fears…

  • Reviewed all my character notes and reminded myself who’s who and what they are like.  I asked myself – does this character feel real and alive – is their personality coming through the writing?;
  • Reviewed and organised all my notes on themes, groups of people, places, rules about the world I’m writing about etc.  Am I including the right information at the right time for the right reason?;
  • Looked again at my overall plot.  I have to confess this is still a little shady in places.  I have a rough idea of where the story is going but haven’t carved out much detail…hmmm. Perhaps I am more of a panser than I think.  At least I know how it ends.
  • Looked again at the backstory.   This is difficult as again I’m not entirely clear on the detail.  I know what happened and when but I need to focus on how and why.
  • Dug out all my bits and pieces of notes in various notebooks around the house where I write down ideas as they come to me.  I’d forgotten about a couple of them, so it was a good exercise to pull them all together.

This all coincided with a major laptop failure (thank goodness for backing up) so it was sort of forced upon me but it was certainly useful.  I have now started writing again (much more fun) with a clearer and more confident sense of where I’m going.  The only sacrifice has been a few hours of time and a couple of thousand words which weren’t going in the right direction so I’ve saved them for a rainy day.