The Great Swampy Middle (or GSM) knows no fear, no mercy, no regret. It doesn't come after you. It darned well knows that you're going to come to it. It knows that you're going to be charging along, sending up the spinning plates, ripping out the strong character introductions, planting cool bits into your story for the future, and generally feeling high on life. And just then, as you get all that fun opening-story stuff done, it pounces. And suddenly, you're staring at a blank word processor screen trying to figure out how to get your story through the next paragraph.Yes, Jim Butcher, thank you for the extremely accurate depiction of what lies ahead.
And it laughs at you. It laughs and dances on the ashes of your enthusiasm. It knows full well that you are going to be its bitch from now until you somehow finish the book or else give up in despair and slit your wrists with the edge of one of those index cards you're using to try to figure out the rest of the plot. It rejoices and dances around a primal bonfire, howling its glee at the uncaring stars.
Back in 2006, Butcher offered terrific advice on his LiveJournal about how to avoid the GSM. I read it yesterday (thanks to Matt) and decided to take it to heart. I got the sense that the mini-arc was something he used in Storm Front, and I remember feeling like the structure of that book was a little wonky. (Also, after you read it: I always thought that the LoTR plot actually divided, with no set of character goals more important than the other. Hence, Frodo/Sam Ring Quest is equal in weight to Aragorn & Co. proceeding eventually to the Battle of the Hornburg. Although the retrieval of Merry and Pippin is supposedly a mini-arc, none of the rest of their quest would have happened if they hadn't gone that way and had to end up in Rohan, so I have a hard time seeing it as a mini-arc.) So I decided not to go with that. Instead I'm planning a Big Middle, which will be an emotional peak for my MC and possibly a hell of a scrap as well. Later on we'll have the big dramatic choice of the climax.
The GSM is what happened to me to a very great extent on the Greenland book and to a lesser extent on the time book.* In both of those, I knew what I wanted to happen in the end, but only very vaguely, and I didn't exactly know how to fill up the 50,000 words or so of the middle in order to get to the end and write through what would happen. Stephen King had reassured me that writing with an outline wasn't necessary for all writers, so I thought my instincts would lead me through to the end. SADLY, NO! I still think that outlining to the last detail isn't necessarily a hot idea for everybody, but having more than a vague idea of what will happen is, I suspect, better.
So that's what I'm doing. I know what's ahead, more than vaguely, even if I'm not sure how each chapter will be worked up. I hope this is a sufficient happy medium and not just me lazily coming to the realization that outlines are necessary for me.
Last night I saw Pulp Fiction in the theater, thanks to Fathom Events, and it was pretty cool. There were trailers shown before the movie "hand-picked by Tarantino from his private collection" - one for a 70's movie with John Cassevetes, Britt Ekland, and a very worked-up Peter Falk called Machine Gun McCain; one for Scarface; and one for a Hong Kong movie with a much younger Chow-Yun Fat (Chow-Young Fat?) called The Killer that I kind of want to see. Trailers were also shown for all of Tarantino's other movies, and my favorite of his (and one of my favorites of all movies) is Kill Bill, the first part of which I failed to see in the theater. So that was cool.
Pulp Fiction itself was a fun thing. That movie is new to me every time I see it, despite knowing chunks of it really well, and Matt and I talked afterward about how nothing else has really been made that resembles it, even 18 years later. (Except Tarantino's own movies.) Unfortunately we were sitting on the same aisle as a group of guys who enjoyed reciting lines along with (and sometimes prior to) the characters. Oh well. It was still worth going. There were a couple of younger folks sitting upwards of us who'd cosplayed as Vincent and Mia for the occasion. I could say an awful lot more about Tarantino here, but again, not the point of this blog.
Opera again tomorrow. December's punishing opera schedule will lead to a lighter January and ever more culture in my brain, so I'm soldiering on. Sallying forth. Pushing forward. Happy Friday.
*The time book = the [non-]horror book. I am tired of writing that punctuation over and over, so henceforth it is the time book.