Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Researching In Reverse

I seem to be developing a pattern. In my first book, And the Truth Will Set You Free, I relocated my character, Kate, to Connecticut. Last October, I traveled to New England and through Connecticut to see how closely my research for the story fit with reality.

In one of my recent completed manuscripts, Shooting Into the Sun, I send my characters to Mackinac Island, Michigan. I've never been there, but always wanted to visit. Well, I'm leaving tomorrow and, after a brief stop over in Pittsburgh, PA for a book signing at the Sto-Rox Public Library, I'm heading to Mackinac Island.

As with many things in my life, I'm once again working in reverse. I research a place, write about, then visit to see how close I came to fact. It seems to fit with what my high school driving instructor said: "I actually think you drive better in reverse." Well, there you have it.

In any case, I'll be back (no pun intended) after Labor Day. Until then, go and write something.


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Curse of the Sagging Middle

Okay, so this can have different meanings, depending upon your perspective. As I prepare to skid sideways into another birthday and wonder what the hell happened to my once-girlish figure, I ponder ‘the sagging middle.’

As writers, we are cautioned about the sagging middle--the point in our story where it droops and loses tension. How much like life is that? As I tugged at the waistband of my favorite jeans the other day, I noticed my sagging middle, and wondered how it got there.

Well, I know how I got my sagging middle--too many hours in the recliner under the laptop, a can of soda and a bag of chips at the ready, (and just a little chocolate). Okay, okay. A lot of chocolate. My sagging middle came from putting all the wrong junk into my body and limiting its activity.

And there it is--how we get a sagging middle in our stories. We fill it with junk--unnecessary details, the little wanderings we go into when we stray from the story, characters that don’t serve a real purpose, lines that don't move the story forward. And we lose the tension and the action. That fantastic beginning that grabbed our reader by the throat and held her there suddenly becomes jello that’s sat in the sun too long. We manage to get back on track and tighten up our ending, but it’s an uphill climb.

Here’s a test I’ve discovered to determine if you have a sagging middle. (No, don’t look down at your navel. I’m talking about writing again.) Highlight a section that you might use as an excerpt. Paste it into a new document, then read it. Does it stand alone? Does it represent the story or give a glimpse of one of your characters? Would it make you want to read the entire book?

If you answer ‘no’ to any of those questions, your story needs liposuction and a good workout. (Or maybe I’m talking about my waistline now?)

Breaking your story into random excerpts will tell you if it’s filled with junk, or (cliche alert) fit as a fiddle.

Now, go, and give a chapter a workout.