When The Final Battle Is In The Middle

I’m not real good at following rules.

More than one reviewer has pointed this out to me.  I, personally, like to think of my writing style as “building narrative tension by confounding genre expectations”, but other people call it “screwing with my readers.”

Fair enough.  I don’t claim to be a nice guy, and I try to make it clear that my work isn’t for everyone.  I like to play with people’s preconceptions.  If a novel is likened to a house, my architectural model is the Winchester Mystery House.  Life (at least my life) tends to be full of loose threads and dead ends, and things aren’t wrapped up neatly.  Life is messy, and my work reflects that.

It’s an aesthetic choice, and one that probably limits my readership, but I think it’s honest and real, or as real as a book about alien minds that make people into plants can be, I suppose.

In any event, I have been moving quickly along on Worms Of Heaven, very pleased with both the quality and the quantity of the words I’m putting down.  However, I realized today that I am just past 41,000 words and I’ve reached the primary antagonist of the book. James & Catskinner have breached the lair of The Orchid and are about to throw down.

Now, conventional wisdom would suggest a couple of different options at this point:

  1. Go back and add in another couple of chapters to the front end of the book, to make the final battle happen somewhere closer to the end rather than the middle.
  2. Go ahead and wrap it up at and sell it as a Novella.
  3. Create a new villain and write the second have of the book about tracking that one down.

No, I don’t like any of those options.

The beginning is already slower than I like, with a lot of time spent in filling in background and introducing characters.

I don’t want this book to be shorter than my first one (which was on the short side of novel-length) I want to offer a real novel as the next book in this series.

I like The Orchid, and the way I’ve written the character is inconsistent with being someone’s minion.

So what am I going to do?  I’m going to break the rules. The rules state that when a major villain is overcome, the battle has to come at the end. (Of course, the rules also state that major villains shouldn’t die off-screen, and I broke that one in my first book.)

Why? Is it to keep the suspense going to the end?  Please–what suspense? I write a series in first person, does anyone really believe that I am going to kill off my narrator?  Sure, maybe I’ll end a book someday by saying, “And then the big monster killed me. The End”, but it’s not going to be this one.  I’m a scofflaw, not an outright nihilist.

I think it’s because what happens after the big battle is hard to write.  Have you ever noticed that series with reoccurring characters tend to gloss over the clean up after the battles?  Book One ends with Studly Heroic vanquishing the Ominous Octopus in an epic battle that levels Cincinnati, and then Book Two picks up a year later, with the city having been rebuilt.

Somewhere in the first chapter of Book Two, stuck in among the scenes that introduce the New And Improved Threat To The Cosmos, you get a few paragraphs of exposition that explain that Studly was able to convince everyone that he was the wronged party and shouldn’t be held liable for what happened to Paul Brown Stadium.

And maybe in future books you’ll have the gruff yet kindhearted desk sergeant gently chiding Studly, saying something along the lines of “You know, the last time you told me to trust you we had to fish the Carew Tower out of the Ohio river…” but that’s about it.

I’ve never really thought about it before, and I wouldn’t be thinking about it now except that my current WIP is going faster than I expected. However, the more I consider the issue, the more putting the big villain battle in the middle of the book and making the third act about fixing the damage appeals to me.  Maybe it’s my background in building maintenance, but I think about the consequences of flashy, superhero-type battles. (To give credit where it is due, so does Joss Weadon, as evidenced by some of Colson’s lines in recent episodes of Agents Of Shield that took place after the events of Thor II.)

Now, I’m not going to give you all 30,000 words of James mudding drywall and sweating pipes.  That’s not the kind of repairs that I have in mind here.  But bad things happen in this book, and some of them happen to likable characters.  I don’t think it’s exactly fair to them to end with them still in shock and pick up a year later with everyone being all better.

I’m not sure quite how this is going to work out.  I hope that it will make this a stronger book, and the characters more real to my readers.  I am going to try it and see what happens.

If it doesn’t work, I can always pull out The Ominous Octopus.


About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008MPNBNS
This entry was posted in On Writing, Worms Of Heaven and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to When The Final Battle Is In The Middle

  1. Chris Edgar says:

    Yes, that’s true — the post-final battle cleanup is almost never seen in print or on film — we’re just supposed to assume that, in Ghostbusters, somehow NY cleans up the hundreds of gallons of burnt marshmallow smeared across the city, even though the city can’t seem to plow two inches of snow off its streets these days.

  2. My “problem” when writing novels is that I like them long. Also I like seeing the aftermath of the big events and how the characters move on so. That’s how I stumbled into writing a series 🙂

  3. I think you should just write the way you want to. Afterwards, you can trim it down without actually taking it out, especially is this is going to be your hook the next part of a series.

    My thoughts.

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