I have a book to finish next month and I’m working on the final third of the story. Looking back over my writing history, I can identify a pattern for my writing if I break the book into thirds. They aren’t even thirds…I’d say the first and last third are shorter, but I seem to go through the same process every time. On my board above, I have one more row to fill in with POV pink and blue sticky notes. The orange are possible plot twists and ideas I like to keep in front of my nose.
The first third: Before I start to write, I have the inciting incident and main mystery line pretty well developed in my head. I don’t know a lot of the key elements in the mystery, but I know the theme of what I want to happen. For example, in HIDDEN I knew that my main character would be terrorized by someone in her past that was believed to be dead. In CHILLED, I wanted a serial killer in the freezing wilderness with a small group of people who had nowhere to go. I also spend a lot of time thinking about my main characters. Who do I want them to be? What is their backstory? How do they interact? The first third of my books is exploring these people and how they act on the page. I’ve changed main characters after starting a book. I give myself permission to play and explore them to see where they take me.
The middle third: Seems to take FOREVER. At this stage, I know these people. Now I have to torture them and put them through hell. Oh, yeah. I really should know who my villain is and have a fuzzy idea of where I’m going to end the story. I spend a lot of time more focused on simply getting the word count in. These are the days of writing non-stop for hours, and I frequently refer to my work as word vomit.
The final third: Suddenly I realize that my word count has shaped up nicely for a novel, and now I need to focus on THE BIG ENDING. Here I spend almost as much time as at the beginning examining my characters. What is the worst thing they can face? Because they are about face it. What makes the book seem to come full circle? I love it when there is an echo of the inciting incident or a character’s ragged past in the darkest moment. What will leave my reader emotionally exhausted and supremely satisfied? Usually I’ll spend a few days plotting out the best way to achieve all these goals. I list out my threads and make certain everything is tied up in a neat bow.
This is where I am in my fifth novel. I’ve pushed through the long middle and now it’s time to bring everything to a head. This is where the writing finally gets easier…in my opinion. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I slow down to make certain every detail is perfect.
I’m in Albany, New York today for Bouchercon, the mystery writers’ world convention. I’ll pop in when I can to answer comments.
Name a book whose ending left you speechless or emotionally drained (in a good way) or you wished the book would never have ended at all.