How I Write: Muddled middles and motivation.

I feel really bad for the “middle”. It has a bad reputation. Seriously, it must have a huge guilt complex. And I don’t blame it.

The middle will make or break your novel. (No wonder we curse it so often.)

If you craft your novel well, the middle is the part where readers give a contented sigh and race to the end with their fingers gripped on the ereader device book. If you have a saggy middle – a reader just might close the book.

I’m a plotter. So when I’m writing I have motivation to finish because I know where I’m going. I’m excited to see how everything unfolds and to reach the climax. But when I’m plotting I struggle with the middle just like pantsers who are writing through the middle.

What I think makes a good middle: (or Act II)

  • plants for later payoffs or revelations
  • main character hunting down false clues or trying to reach goals, and they make mistakes
  • introduction or furthering of the inside character arc
  • disasters and complications
  • plot points and information that push the story forward
  • developing relationships

The middle middle: the big twist, reversal, huge revelation; the part where the reader gasps and the story takes off in a whole different direction.

  • real clues and plot developments
  • increased stakes in the outer and inner plot
  • everything goes wrong
  • payoffs from earlier plants
  • any subplots or separate storylines start connecting
  • devastation and the main character’s dark moment
  • mc makes plans

After the middle, the story heads into Act III and the climax.

There you have it. I find motivation through the middle by constantly asking how I can make it bigger, better, more suprising  – while moving the plot forward.  

Do you struggle with your middles? And what aspect of the middle is the hardest? How have you learned  to perfect your middles? (Srsly tell all because I’m stuck in a middle right now.)

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16 Responses to How I Write: Muddled middles and motivation.

  1. Carole Anne Carr July 21, 2010 at 8:35 am #

    Yes I certainly do. I’ve I’m not careful, my middles will read as tired as I am feeling when I get to that point! My should receive copies of my latest book today, so hopefully the middle won’t have saggy bits showing! Hugs..

  2. Kay July 21, 2010 at 12:03 pm #

    I’m in the middle of struggling with my middle. I love the ideas of things to pack in the middle to keep the story moving. I’ve even been doing some of these.

  3. kris July 21, 2010 at 12:13 pm #

    I’ve got to get through the beginning to get to the middle. 😉

    You’ve given a lot more thought to the ‘bones’ of the middle than I have! I love a good middle!

  4. anne gallagher July 21, 2010 at 12:24 pm #

    It’s funny you shouldmention middles. I’m in the middle of my middle as we speak.(write)

    I’ve heard you should always up the stakes in the middle.
    1) Kill someone.
    2) Blow something up.
    3) Make it as hard as possible for your MC to get what she/he wants.

    I don’t have an explosion, I do have a near death experience, but it is getting harder and harder for my MC to get what she wants.

    Hope that helps.

  5. Creepy Query Girl July 21, 2010 at 12:59 pm #

    I’d have to say I’m pretty ‘ok’ with my middles. My weakspot is the very start of the story, when I’m still setting things up. Once I know where its all going, who my characters really are and I’m comfortable in that book ‘voice’ the pacing and story really take off but those first three chapters are my hardest to get through, the hardest to revise and edit and it STILL feels like I can’t get them right. And, ofcourse, THAT is what agents base opinions are so I’m doubly screwed.

    • Laura July 21, 2010 at 1:54 pm #

      I think writers naturally include a lot of what needs to happen esp. if we’ve been reading a lot. And beginnings are tough too. I rewrite them the most for sure! Thanks for commenting everyone!

  6. Nelsa July 21, 2010 at 2:06 pm #

    You are seriously in my head, Laura. You know I hate those murky middles. What I try to do is have a strong sub-plot that ties into the main one and have a few things happening there and, like you suggested, always MAKE THINGS WORSE for my MC. Threaten his friends, family, something important to him, thwart his efforts at getting his goal, have him search for something that he needs in order to resolve the main plot. As long as there is some action and inner conflict to propel the plot along that’s a good middle. Now, to just come up with those ideas…

  7. Laura July 21, 2010 at 2:13 pm #

    Nelsa – exactly! Sub plots are great. Or if you have a simple plot it’s exploring the inner character arc and tying the inner to the outer. And for it’s not just coming up with idea but ideas that say WOW!

  8. Patti Nielson July 21, 2010 at 3:54 pm #

    I like Nelsa’s suggestion about subplots. Great post.

  9. Ansha Kotyk July 21, 2010 at 4:39 pm #

    How can you be stuck right now Laura? You have an awesome list of things to keep your middle moving. I’m copying and pasting your list as reminders when I get to my middle! You’re awesome. 😉

  10. Robert Guthrie July 21, 2010 at 5:16 pm #

    I LOVE that you use the three act structure! And on the middle… for every chapter I ask myself, how is this ramping it up?

  11. Jennifer Shirk July 21, 2010 at 6:03 pm #

    I usually don’t struggle with middles. Maybe that’s because I’m a plotter. Beginnings are my big struggle.

  12. Steven K. Griffin July 21, 2010 at 6:47 pm #

    I just finished writing the scene list for the middle section of my novel. I have to admit, it was a lot harder than I thought it would be; I can see why it has such a bad reputation!

    It seemed like the hardest part to finish was the second half of Act II right before the second plot point and transition into Act III. I don’t know why, but when I was putting together those scenes, I knew where I was heading, but I just flat ran out of where to take the story. I must have reworked my scene list for that area three or four times before I reached something I was satisfied with.

    Now I’m just scared I’ll change it all again when I write the narrative outline and start the first draft of that section. 🙂

    Great insights.

  13. Tatiana Caldwell July 21, 2010 at 7:46 pm #

    I agree that the middle can either make or break your story, and knowing that fact alone is what motivates me to write it. My biggest issue, which I discussed on my post for today, is the drop in confidence that tends to hit me while I’m working on that ever-important middle!

  14. patti July 22, 2010 at 12:14 am #

    Had to say hey in a more personal way to a bayou lover and hope that we can become bloggites!

    Haven’t struggled with the middle since I started The Snowflake Method of plotting from that crystal of a hook to a paragraph of the point to a short synopsis, long, and then chapters.

    Then agent Natasha rips through the work, helps me solidify things, and thar she rolls.

    But check with me in about a month, when “Reclaiming Lily” is in the middle doldrums (or maybe not, Lord willing!)


  15. Tina Lee July 22, 2010 at 11:35 am #

    I have to admit, I’m a little freaked. Yesterday I was fine and I worked hard and today I think my middle must suck.

    My plot and my book are odd ducks and I just rounded the hump of the second act in this revision. There may be no hope to lay it on thick for book 1’s MC, but my next one, I’m taking this list with me. And applying thumbscrews. But I will most likely still be freaked.

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