The hardest part of the novel

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Sanderling
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The hardest part of the novel

Post by Sanderling » September 5th, 2012, 1:15 am

Beginnings are my nemesis. With both my last MS and my current one, I re-wrote the opening half a dozen times from scratch, trying to find that right balance of introduction and tension. No other scene in my novels ever goes through that many versions, not even the ending (which can also give me trouble). I would like to be able to start my novel on page five and just carry on.

As I type out my seventh opening this evening, I was wondering: what part of the novel do you all find the hardest?
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Philabuster
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Re: The hardest part of the novel

Post by Philabuster » September 5th, 2012, 1:32 am

It always seems that the part I'm currently working on is the hardest part of my novel.

Right now I'm in the home stretch with about 15k left to go and I'm starting to stumble. I'm at A. I have C already written, but B is proving to be very difficult. So technically it's not quite the ending, but it is at a moment where my MC solves his conflict. It's such a monumental point in the story and it's taking me a long time.

...but I am making progress.

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Re: The hardest part of the novel

Post by Sommer Leigh » September 5th, 2012, 9:01 am

While my beginnings sometimes take a while, they never feel hard.

My hardest part are the endings. Or not THE END, but the part right before the end. The last like 15,000 words. ugh.
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Re: The hardest part of the novel

Post by trixie » September 5th, 2012, 11:28 am

I agree 110%, Sanderling. I struggle with beginnings in each story I've written. I agree--if I could just start on page 5, that would be so much easier. So then I try and start there, but feel like it cuts out this gentle introduction between the reader and the story.

I'm getting better at it. I write a few pages of backstory, stuff I know won't actually be in the story, but I need to get it in place so I can drop the proverbial needle on the record and start a few pages in.

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Re: The hardest part of the novel

Post by dios4vida » September 5th, 2012, 1:00 pm

I was actually just thinking about this question, Sanderling!

For me, it's actually Act 3. Those 20Kish words after the midpoint OH MY GOSH twist but before the YOU CAN RUN BUT YOU CAN'T HIDE chase to the final battle. Beginnings aren't too bad for me, I rewrite them often but that's not uncommon for me. Endings are among the easiest because everything I've done up to that point has been leading to it. But my third acts are always too rushed and a lot of character development goes by the wayside. It's like by the time I've gotten the first half written my brain just wants to speed through the rest and get to the end, and my characters just kinda go bam-bam-oops-bam-we're ready in a flash.
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Re: The hardest part of the novel

Post by Mark.W.Carson » September 5th, 2012, 2:30 pm

I will agree the first 20 pages are the worst for me. In fact, the first chapter, five pages, let's call it, are awful to get into. They set the tone, the hook, etc and I sweat them so much. It can take 2 days to write 500 words for me, yet yesterday, I wrote 1700 in an hour, ending in the 130 page-ish area.

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Re: The hardest part of the novel

Post by Hillsy » September 5th, 2012, 6:23 pm

Wow, I always thought the first 80 pages were supposed to be the easy part! I could write openings all day. I've probably got 5, mebbe 6 blocks of about 25-35K that are all starts....which I guess defines what I find the most difficult.....yeah the bit after that.

I hit a kind of paralysis of analysis about a fifth or sixth of the way in: I've got all my balls airborne and the protag chased up a tree where they should be, then I start thinking about what's next on my character/plot/action arcs. But in order to start building on those foundations I look back to make sure all my ducks are in a row, at which point all my momentum vanishes. I become the writing equivalent of the mad hermit, sitting at home polishing his sink but only chasing fresh streaks across the draining board, unable to achieve perfection. Even the mere act of touching cloth to steel leaves behind the faintest of marks. And so, trapped in the inifinte fractal of perfectionism, I stop, put the book away, and sketch it all in my head instead where I don't have to worry about the imperfect medium of language.

See I found my first two trunk novels easy because I was just.....trying to finish. Then I found out I was kinda good - at least in the sense that I wasn't an utter hack - and that was it....kapow....never finished the next 5 novels....One I even got 70K into, ready for that massive mid-point, ball kick of a turning point.....then got snagged on one paragraph. Just one. Revised it a few times now, never moved on from that half-finished paragraph. I felt I needed to make the reader feel exactly the right thing. That perfect level of foreshadowing. I was, am I guess, a decent writer/storyteller, but I can't just be good anymore, I've got to be good enough to get in that top 0.01%. Cue the endless, fruitless search for perfection, because when you don't know what "good enough" is, your only guarantee of success is perfection.

This is why I lose my rag when people give hyperbolic, pithy advice about something having to be perfect. Cos some of us poor souls can't help but take it literally and are destroyed by it, utterly.

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Re: The hardest part of the novel

Post by Sanderling » September 5th, 2012, 9:49 pm

I've loved reading everyone's responses. On the one hand, I am not alone in my struggle with beginnings! That makes me feel much better about how many times I've rewritten mine. And on the other hand, it's always fascinating how differently everyone handles the writing process. How others can wrestle with stuff I find relatively easy, and vice versa. I can sort of see how some jointly-written books could actually work out really well for certain authors, if you choose your partner well to balance your weaknesses.

Trixie - I've been doing that, too, jumping around to try to find the right starting point, how much to show and how much to put into backstory. The other thing I wrestle with is choosing an approach to and finding a starting point within the scene that shows just enough of the world and character while also introducing some - but not a lot - of tension from the get-go. So far my story has started off in four different rooms, with three different setting approaches, and two different tension points. I *think* I may have settled on one.

Hillsy - That's tough. I have almost the opposite of a perfectionist problem in that I'm perfectly content to get something to "good enough" and then move on, so I probably wrap up projects when they could still do with a bit more work to reach "great". I just don't have the patience to reach "great" unless there's an obvious reward (other than personal satisfaction). If only I could trade you some of my ambivalence for your perfectionism!
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Re: The hardest part of the novel

Post by bcomet » September 6th, 2012, 4:28 pm

For me, the hardest part is the final 3rd or 4th. I have to step away from it and then, in order to get back into it, I have to get myself in from the outside and outline and, at that point, it is often a hurtle.

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Re: The hardest part of the novel

Post by klbritt » September 6th, 2012, 5:06 pm

The hardest part for me, is writing the middle and always feeling like it's not good enough. Like the pacing may be off, or maybe my characters are unlikable. I LOVE writing the beginnings of stories and often find that I'll come up with the first few lines completely by accident. I'll write them down and sit on them for a day or two and then expand from there. But I'm a total pantser, so I think my insecurities stem from that :)
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Re: The hardest part of the novel

Post by Beethovenfan » September 7th, 2012, 1:48 am

Endings. I really suck at bringing everything to a nice final close. I can get all my loose ends tied up in neat little bows, but my endings seem to lack a certain something. I'm hoping my critique partners can help me out with that.
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Re: The hardest part of the novel

Post by Sanderling » September 7th, 2012, 12:46 pm

Bcomet - A lot of people seem to struggle with the run up to and through the climax. I've always loved that part best because it's so emotional and action-packed. Usually I have to clear my schedule before I sit down to write it 'cause I know I won't be getting anything else done once I start.

Kristie - I've heard that a bunch from writers, and it's something that hits me, too; at a certain point in the writing insecurities kick in and the whole thing starts to seem like crap. For me it's about the 1/3rd point usually. If I can push through to the midpoint plot twist (or send the first part off to a CP to have them reassure me that it's actually good) my enthusiasm usually picks back up. :)

Beethovenfan - Yeah, me too. That last paragraph, and especially that last sentence, is another section I typically rewrite at least once or twice. Though not as many times as my beginnings. ;)
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Re: The hardest part of the novel

Post by Sommer Leigh » September 7th, 2012, 1:25 pm

OH. You know those chapters that come after something big happens and those chapters are usually a little slower in terms of action and twists and usually have to do with dealing with whatever happened in the OMG chapter? I have a hard time writing those chapters. I always second guess myself on the pacing and tension.
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Sanderling
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Re: The hardest part of the novel

Post by Sanderling » September 7th, 2012, 2:10 pm

I know exactly what you mean, Sommer! Also, the slower chapters that lead up to the action-filled chapter. And, well, slower chapters in general. I'm always convinced they're totally boring. Thank goodness for beta readers.
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Re: The hardest part of the novel

Post by Shipple » September 7th, 2012, 9:36 pm

I think the hardest part for me are the action scenes and knowing how to make them sound cool and active and keep the pace flowing. Usually these parts involve flying and weapons, and all sorts of things that I have no practical experience with.

But as for beginnings, I definitely edit, edit, and re-write them. I usually like the basic idea of my beginning, but everything hangs on the first few chapters (especially that first chapter). If an agent doesn't like it, that book's going nowhere, so by the time I'm done with my manuscript, I've edited my beginning at least 20 times (honestly, it's probably a lot more), but the rest of the book may only have gotten three or four edits (or less if it's a part I added in my third draft.) So I definitely fiddle with my beginning more than any other part.
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