Thursday, April 12, 2012

Muddled Middles

© Copyright Joan Sykes, licensed for reuse
Lately I've been trying to fill some empty scenes in the middle of my current manuscript. Unfortunately, I'm not coming up with anything particularly interesting, and I'm getting awfully tired of her wandering around by herself, moping and pining. If I hadn't made her an only child, I'd have so much more fodder to work with right now. For example:

  • The cacophony of sounds would be exponentially louder and more interesting. 
  • There would be a cacophony of sounds. 
  • I could introduce an entire cast of kooky, misunderstood family members. 
  • Things would actually happen. *sigh* 

But, I have to be honest with myself. A large family or small family or whatever else I use an excuse isn't the real problem. The real problem is I have a great beginning, and a fairly decent climax, and a beautiful ending, but that middle is a hot mess.

In other words, I'm drowning in a muddled middle.

I know I can't be the only one suffering through the middle of a manuscript, so I thought today I'd do some research and find tips from others on how to fix a muddled or sagging middle.

I found the following:

This link from The Editor's Blog suggests splitting the middle into three distinct parts: the beginning middle, the middle middle, and the ending middle. Think of writing that beginning middle just like you did when you polished the beginning of the novel (with conflict and tension), and the ending middle should be that dark point in your novel, when things look their bleakest. Then you'll only have to make sure the middle middle doesn't sag.

Darcy Pattison suggests in this blog post to think about your middle as the place where inner conflict should shine, where your main character experiences growth. So choose five or six steps that show your main character's growth, then slip in some plot (that outer conflict) to match your steps. She also suggest you make sure your final step is the decision that will take your character (and, by extension, your readers) quickly down the path to the climax.

Some other great ideas are hidden in this thread on Absolute Write Water Cooler. The best advice I found were these three messages:

"Regarding sagging middles, one of the best ways to avoid them is to throw obstacles in the way of the MC reaching the goals you've set out, and in many cases, completely moving the goalposts." --Stew 21 (I do love the idea of completely moving the goalposts!)

"The book is written by setting up situation/problem after situation/ problem as your characters pursue their goals and meet obstacles. Make them care about each one, and the reader will care, too." --Rowdymama (Making your readers care is a big one!)

"There comes a time in the middle of your novel when you just wish you could just get to the end. Your writing reflects that attitude and the result is poor prose. It's best to shake the attitude before continuing, or do some heavy editing later." --RJK (This is so true for me, I always get that feeling, and it's not something I've ever thought about fixing during the first draft! I'll have to try that one next time...)

And there are so many great suggestions in this thread from my favorite place on the internet, Verla Kay's Message Board (or Blueboard, as we Blueboarders affectionately call it). It's all good stuff, though I did particularly like the idea of writing the beginning and then outlining the middle. "You've had your fun hiking on your own rules, now take the time to mark the trail the rest of the way." --Frainstorm

But read the whole thread. It's worth it.

So, there you have it, folks! I hope some of that was useful. Personally, I think some of these suggestions will help me muddle through my middle. And if not, at least I got a break from writing!

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