Monday, July 13, 2009

Three Common Problems with Manuscripts: Middles

What is the most common problem with manuscript middles?
Yes, you guessed it: not enough conflict.

I think I run into this problem all the time with my manuscripts because I hate conflict so much in my real life. I just want to be happy! I want to get along with everybody! I loathe and abominate arguments, and meanness, and knock-down, drag-out fights.

So it helped me when I took a fabulous online writing course last year from writing guru Dennis Foley, called “Writing the First Novel.” I had already published 40 books at the time,
including over 20 novels, but I learned so much. I only wish I had taken the course at the beginning of my career instead of halfway through.

Dennis said: “Novels are about conflict. Life is about avoiding conflict. Understand the difference.” He also said, “Don’t write like you want to live.”

So, as I was working on my spring 2010 novel, One Square Inch, in which Cooper is faced with his mother’s mental illness, I gritted my teeth and took Dennis’s advice. First I killed off Cooper’s dad: no help for Cooper from that quarter. But he still had those wonderful, loving grandparents. . . So then I killed off his grandmother. But he still had that wonderful, loving grandfather. So then I made his grandfather be difficult: critical, crabby, cantankerous. Conflict! Conflict! I still miss the wonderful, loving grandfather sometimes, but I think the manuscript is stronger now.

Tomorrow: the most common problem with children’s book manuscript endings.

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