Saturday, April 18, 2015

Gifts from the Rain (April theme) by Claudia Mills

Our theme this month: April showers bring May flowers.

Our question this month: how do we make our story flowers grow?

Here is one "gardening" technique I use with mine.

Like many writers, I tend to get stuck about halfway through a book, or maybe a third of the way in. The story is well begun, with the presentation of my characters and the establishment of the central problems to be resolved. I have a good sense of how that resolution is going to take place. But now I have the whole middle of the book to fill, the whole dreaded "saggy middle" to navigate.

My most fertile technique here is to go back and re-read the first half or third of the book and note carefully every gift I've already given myself. These are little fun, throw-away moments in the story that I hadn't thought much about as I was writing, details that crept in for their own sake, but that now need to be pressed into full service for the larger story.

For example, in Kelsey Green, Reading Queen, Kelsey is trying to win a school reading contest. But it is only mildly interesting to read about someone else reading. Reading is not inherently a spectator sport. Facing my sagging middle, I looked hard at what I had already provided for my authorial self to work with.

The book opens with a scene intended to show Kelsey as an obsessive reader, as she's reading The Secret Garden under her desk during math time. Then I have her once again reading during math in a subsequent chapter. Doesn't she at some time in the book have to get caught? Of course, she does! This may seem blindingly obvious to everyone else in the world, but I truly didn't realize this until I went on that hunt for first-half-of-the-book gifts. Recall the adage attributed to Chekhov that if there is a gun hanging over the mantel in Act I of the play, it needs to go off by Act III.

The school principal, Mr. Boone, comes by to cheer on the third graders. To give additional encouragement, he mentions in passing that the star fifth grade reader is off on a family vacation, so this may help their chances. Doesn't Kelsey have to have a face-to-face meeting with that star fifth grade reader later in the story when Lindsay returns from her trip?

Kelsey is frustrated by her mother's insistence that she give up precious reading time to attend her older siblings' school events: her mother calls it "being a family." Doesn't Kelsey have to have some kind of big blow-up moment as her irritation accumulates, an explosion that will lead her to a new appreciation of her family, after all?

So, as you try to get your story flowers to bloom, rain and sunshine are all to the good. But also pay close attention to the seeds that you yourself have already planted.


  1. I like this suggestion Claudia...I am going through the "saggy middle" as we speak!

  2. Uuugh! The dreaded middle! Love the idea of revisiting the beginning...

  3. I love this. Sometimes we don't know why we threw a detail in there until it comes up again later. Our subconscious minds, always at work.