Achieving Literary Liftoff: How To Ensure Your Novel Flies Right

Fly Novel, Fly!

All the writing books concentrate on beginnings and endings. Very few of them consider the middle, or even the middle of the beginning.

This is sort of akin to concentrating on your flight experience by making sure you have a good takeoff and a good landing and not caring in the least if your pilot decides to do loop-de-loops in the middle.


There are reasons for this, of course. I read somewhere that most of the fatal accidents in flights occur during takeoff and landing, and the same thing sort of applies to a book.

If you fail to capture the reader’s interest within the first few pages, you are clearly not going to make a sale. And if you end the book so disastrously that the reader feels cheated and wants to throw things at your head, you’re probably never going to make another sale to this person (and might have to wear protective head gear while traveling in their region).

But just because the moment of takeoff and landing, and the moments of starting and ending a book matter, it doesn’t mean that what goes in the middle is irrelevant.

I mean, consider the idea that you buy a flight to Poughkeepsie in the fine state of NY. Perhaps you have a hankering to visit the historic Vanderbilt Mansion.

Suppose that your plane takes off beautifully, and lands beautifully, but instead of taking you to the Queen City of the Hudson, the pilot decides it’s less trouble and much better for all concerned if he flies a few circles around the airport and then lands you back where you started.

No one would be that silly, you say?

Ah—you clearly haven’t read some of the books I’ve read.

It is actually a fairly common mistake, particularly of rookie authors still uncertain of their plot, to put all the might of their limited craft into starting and ending the book. Meanwhile, they have what I’ve grown to call “something goes here” middles.


The problem is that, in writing as in flights, if you’re going around in circles, no matter how entertaining you make the trip, calling out all the landmarks, if your book is going nowhere, people notice. After a while your reader starts asking: “Is this all there is? Is she running from the bad guys again? Haven’t we seen this before? But… nothing is solved.”

No matter how entertaining, people do catch on when you’re going around in circles

At that point the reader puts the book down – or reaches for the barf bag.

The way to avoid this loop-de-loop effect is to actually go somewhere. And the way to actually go somewhere is much the same as when you start a flight: you have to set your course early on.

This is more easily said than done, and the problems strikes both those who plot strictly and those who fly by the seat of the pants. In both cases it is all too easy to confuse “something happens here” with “plot is actually happening.”

This can occur even in the books of experienced writers. (And there are some writers, names withheld to protect the guilty, who have managed to build entire bestselling careers without once constructing a functional plot that doesn’t include loop-de-loop syndrome. There is a reason for this, which I will explain when we get to testing and evaluating your work.) And if it’s not going to happen, you need to set your plot on the right course early. You need not only lift, but to go somewhere.


This, to be blunt, is where I’ve been all of this week, stuck in a limbo between the beginning sentence and how to actually set my book on a course somewhere.

The beginning has changed – this is not something I recommend beginners do, until they finish the book – but the beginning bothered me. For one, no matter how much the character wants it, and while starting with “I am a bitch” is intriguing enough, it also will put a lot of readers off, unnecessarily, and it sets up a whole slew of expectations that are not, in the end, what I wanted.

For one, it is all too easy for someone to think this is fantasy about a shape-shifter changing into a wolf or dog. For another, it sets up an expectation for higher profanity and sexual content than I intend to deliver.

Don’t sell tickets to places you don’t intend to go.

It is in fact like selling tickets to New York City and then flying the passengers to Poughkeepsie. It might be a lovely place, and it might have some fine landmarks, but you aren’t going to climb the Empire State Building.

So, I revised the beginning paragraph. It still needs to be strong, of course – I still have to get people into the plane and interested in the ride.

I took off on the title and stuck to the theme of the book:

Long ago weapons were forged with metal that was put in the fire and beaten; stressed and pushed beyond its endurance point.

If it worked, what emerged was a sword that was strong, flexible and razor-sharp.

If it failed, the metal crushed or melted or otherwise fell apart.

In those barbaric times, they couldn’t see molecular structure. All it took was a weak spot, a flaw in the metal, and all the work would be ruined.

They couldn’t know till the metal had been through fire.

Finding myself imprisoned, accused of being one of the enemies of the people of Liberty Seacity, and condemned to death felt much the same. I didn’t know if I’d survive or not. I knew that whatever came out at the other end would never be the same.

And it didn’t matter, because whether I changed or not, I must survive and save those who depended on me.


Those last two paragraphs, the dismount from the setup of the metaphor to the more concrete reality of where my character is and what is happening to her, could be more graceful. They probably will be more graceful once I’m done polishing a bit. But for now, they work. The metaphor of being put through fire sets up the expectation that my character, like the weapon, will get put in unbearable situations but will emerge improved (if not invincible). And it establishes that the situation she starts off in puts more than herself in jeopardy, since there are those who depend on her.

Since this is the start to an adventure space opera, you can’t have much better.

I’ve toyed with the rest of the chapter, but – for various reasons – I’m behind where I intended to be this week. This is not appreciated, but it is inevitable.

Neither health issues, nor turbulence, nor sudden Pegasus shall keep this writer from finishing her novel.

Sometimes, when you take off on your planned flight, you find yourself hitting turbulence. The turbulence, in this case, was health issues – as unavoidable and inescapable as storms between you and your destination. You can push through them to some extent, but sometimes you just have to say “I can’t” and watch old mystery series on the TV until the symptoms pass.

So the chapter didn’t get written, but I know where it is headed and I can make up speed now that things have stopped shaking around.


The next portion of the narrative will dwell on the physical conditions of my main character’s captivity and the preparations she’s made so that, when they come to have her taken out and be executed, she can escape.

With the take-off – the ramp-up in the beginning – taking place in the right direction, we have a fairly good sense we’ll not get caught in loop-de-loops. The plot is, instead – and how it should be – set up as a series of rising challenges that will keep the reader entranced and interested, and that will land in a different place than where it started.

The first chapter will cement it, and set our sense of who the character is, and what her limits and challenges are.

All that, and more, will be done this coming week.

One of the things I like about this thirteen-week framework is that it’s sort of project management for self-instigated work.

Even though Through Fire is under contract, it is all too easy to lose that sense of urgency, and to spend time in rotating metaphorical cats. It’s easy to fiddle with this and polish that, and end up a year later with nothing done. (The myth that taking longer is better doesn’t help any writers become focused either.)

But since I committed myself to finishing this in thirteen weeks, I have to give up the idea of perfection and just try to do it. Like a flight that lost time to turbulence, I now need to make up for lost time so I can arrive at the destination when expected.


And that’s what I will do this coming week. Wish me tailwinds.



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