Friday, March 24, 2017


What’s the hardest part of a book to write? Not the beginning, because what writer isn’t full of enthusiasm at the onset of a project? Sometimes that opening sentence is what launches the whole thing in an author’s mind. Call me Ishmael. Chapter One: I am Born. For years I couldn’t remember what happened to me that night.*

The middle chapters are almost always a hard slog, it’s true. They don’t call a problem with this section “the sagging middle” for nothing. Keeping up the pace, making sure you don’t lose all of your subplots in a swamp of details, enforcing consistency in your characters, all take discipline and drive.

But the proof of any novel’s pudding is at the end, when all the plot threads must tie themselves up in neat little bows, the bad guy must get his or her just deserts, and your hero and heroine must have resolved all their internal and external conflicts so they can enjoy their happily ever after. Aarggh!

Of course, the myth is that plotters and pantsers approach this moment of truth in completely different ways. Plotters, it is assumed, have it all figured out from the beginning. It’s there in the outline! This happens, then this, then, ta-da! Ends tied, bad guy dead, HEA.

Pantsers, supposedly, just write until things work themselves out. If they hit a wall, they write around it, or over it, or under it. Intuition working overtime, pantsers find solutions to whatever problems present themselves as they come up, though maybe that doesn’t happen right away. (I hope not, anyway, or I would be much more jealous of these folks than I already am!)

But, surprise! Hardly anyone is exclusively a plotter or a pantser. And the Muse is fond of throwing all sorts of obstacles in our path as we work our way through a story. Unexpected plot complications. Demanding characters. Corners, with wet paint on the floor all around. Inconvenient laws of physics that make you want to switch to writing contemporary romance. And, most especially at the end of a novel with any subplots at all, the issue of timing (that is, who is supposed to be where at exactly what day and time).

As a plotter, you might think I’d have fewer problems than some with tying things up at the end of a book. But right now, I’m close to the end of the first draft of Book 4 in my Interstellar Rescue series and, really, I have no idea how to end it. Well, I mean, I know generally what should happen. Minor villain vanquished by the hero/heroine (and, big reveal here, dog—which, I should add, I’d already put in the story before Pets in Space was launched). Major villain(s) vanquished (for now) by the Rescue team from earlier novels (since this is a series). Hero and heroine (and dog) get their HEA. Sexy secondary character set up for his own future book.  All good.

But the devil is in the details. I could use a little pantsing skill right about now. Because there comes a time when you just have to sit down at the computer and write something.
And hope it all comes out the way it should. In the end.

*The first line of Unchained Memory, Book 1, Interstellar Rescue series

Well done to the Finalists announced Tuesday, March 21, including SFR Brigade members Janet Halpin (Golden Heart®, Paranormal, for Beryl Blue, Time Cop) and Susan Grant (RITA, Paranormal, for Champion of Baresh)! The nomination for the RITA is especially sweet for Grant, one of the pioneers of SFR in the early 2000s who had been out of the game for several years. She self-published Champion of Baresh, which she calls a “book of my heart.” Good luck to Susan and Janet in Orlando in July!

Cheers, Donna


  1. The End is exactly where I am right now with one story--about 2500 words out--and oh yeah, it's a challenge creating that heart-rending black moment and then getting everything to tie up nicely for a well-deserved HEA and a finale that answers all the questions that were raised.

    Your description of "pantsing" is exactly how I work: "Pantsers, supposedly, just write until things work themselves out. If they hit a wall, they write around it, or over it, or under it. Intuition working overtime, pantsers find solutions to whatever problems present themselves as they come up, though maybe that doesn’t happen right away." This is so dead on. Writing without a road map can end up in some aggravating dead-ends, but they always seem to transform themselves into amazing plot twists. I think pantsers thrive on the challenge of chaos, where plotters need a more orderly system to work inside.

    And your story has a dog! Excellent! It was fun to write for Pets in Space, but really--pets are so much a part of our lives, why wouldn't they be part of our future? As the late Carrie Fisher said in a con last year, "We need more pets in space!" Looking forward to reading your next.

    1. Thanks, Laurie! Good for you, riding the exciting edge all the time as a "pantser." Tell the truth, it scares me to death! And, yes, therapy dog "Happy" is a delight to write about. He's a rescued Belgian shepherd mix with a sunny personality. He'd gladly go anywhere with his nurse mom--even into space if that were in the cards.

  2. The only thing I know is that there is no magic formula for figuring it all out--even though I keep looking/hoping for one.

    When I do figure things out, it's like something clicks in my brain. When it's right, I know it.

  3. Ha! In the end, pantsers and plotters, we all get stuck. I went to hear Neil Gaiman speak last night, and he addressed an audience question about dealing with writers' block - he doesn't believe in it. Thinks that the label itself is just an enabling excuse, when in fact we're just stuck. He says we get stuck because we went wrong somewhere, and working on something else for a while helps. This did not click for me, but it DID make me think. I realized that when I get stuck (as I am now, SMACK in the sagging middle), it's because of my FEAR of a making a wrong choice. It paralyzes me. And switching to another project just enables my procrastination and builds on that fear. For me, as you mention above, it's best to just keep writing and ignoring that fearful voice until "things work themselves out."


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