Letter From The Editor - Issue 68 - April 2019

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  Writing Advice by Mette Ivie Harrison
May 2017

The First Half of Your Book Needs to Match the Second Half

This may sound like obvious advice, but it isn’t. Every writer needs to think about this. You need to leave promises for the reader in the first half of the book that you fulfill in the second half. Everything that happens in the second half should be foreshadowed in the first half. There should be no real surprises. Twists, sure. But if you’re writing a contemporary setting and suddenly the book turns to zombies, but not until the second half, you’re doing it wrong. Readers who want contemporary settings aren’t going to be happy about zombies and you aren’t going to get them to thank you, even if you think you will.

I suspect one of the reasons that authors do this is that they get bored writing their own book. Yeah, I see you. I figured out that’s what’s going on. You were writing one book and then you realized that it was boring and you threw some exciting things in, like space aliens or explosions or an evil villain, or a kidnapping.

Another one of the reasons this happens is that you’ve got no idea what happens next, so you tack on the last half of the most recent movie you saw and hope that it works. It doesn’t. If you’re having a problem plotting the book you started out writing, it may be because you don’t really have a plot for that book because the characters are passive. You need to deal with figuring out what the characters want to do, not just throw them into a situation that makes seem more interesting.

Sometimes what happens is that you didn’t realize what the book was really about until you got about halfway through (or later). That’s when you start to realize what the ending is going to be, and you try to keep the first half because you did such good work, building character and setting, etc. Sorry, it can’t stay like this. You’re going to have to cut out the whole first half of your book and build up to the actual ending as you have it written. Or alternatively, you could divide the book in half, write the first half of the second half of the book, and sell that, and then write the second half of the first half of the book, and sell that. These are two different books. You can’t paste them together. I say this as someone who has repeatedly done this because I tend to be a discovery writer.

If you don’t want to write two books and you’re really determined to put these two books together, let me suggest that you need to do some heavy revision which will likely involve cutting a lot and then adding in some new chapters that show how the second half of the book makes sense as an ending to the first half of the book. This is a lot of work and I can’t recommend it. I’ve done it, and it’s a pain.

If you’re interested in figuring out how to avoid this problem, you might consider that if you start feeling anxious about how the book is going to end, or bored, you need to go back to the beginning of the book. The beginning of the book should always lead to the end of the book. Either it’s already there and you’re missing it (sometimes this happens if you have a really great subconscious mind that’s at work all the time, but I won’t guarantee it), or it’s not there and the problem with your book is less that you don’t know how it’s going to end and more that you don’t have the right pieces to begin a book yet.

You need a character who needs something, obstacles in the world, and people to interact with (and have conflicts with). If you’ve got a story where the character gets everything they want, it’s no wonder you’re tempted to throw something else in. If you’ve got a book where the characters don’t know what they want and wander around trying to figure it out, you need to figure out your characters better. I don’t believe there are people who want nothing. There are people who don’t know what they want, sure. But you, as the writer, have to know what your characters want even if they don’t know what they want. Sometimes this means that you as the writer have to figure out what you want because you’re writing characters like yourself. I’d say that for a great number of writers, figuring out what you want is the hardest part of writing. Once you’ve got that down, the story will come easily.

Read more by Mette Ivie Harrison

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