Stuck in the Middle

This week we’re talking about middles. Not middles as in waistlines. Middles as in that section of your novel that connects your brilliant beginning with your stunning conclusion.

Middles can get murky. They can catch you like quicksand and suck you down to oblivion. Stall you out like the doldrums. Cut you off at the knees.

Okay, enough dramatic cliches.

There are some telltale warning signs you’re headed into a swampy slowdown.

You might be in trouble if:

  • Your character stares out the window, thinking
  • Two characters pass the time talking about what’s happened up to that point, rehashing information they both know but are saying anyway for the reader’s benefit
  • You take up wide swaths of chapters describing the scenery in minute detail while your characters sits at a table doing nothing

Do you see a common denominator? No movement.

The key, I’m quickly learning, to getting through the murky middle is to keep your characters actively moving through the story. In order for them to do so, you’re going to need…

A plot.

I used to be a pantser. I would sit at the keyboard and wait for the story to land in my head and flow through my fingers. And too many times my novels fizzled about halfway through.

I had no plot.

And then I read Save the Cat, by Blake Snyder. And I learned how to map out my story before writing it.

Guess what? It worked.

I’ve written two manuscripts since I learned how to Save the Cat, and both times, I’ve zoomed right through the middle. My stories maintained their energy and the momentum carried them through to the conclusion. Yay!

Now, you might be shaking your head, thinking outlining and plotting aren’t for you. That’s fine. We all have our own processes. But the next time you find yourself stuck in the middle, you should consider evaluating where your character is, where you need him to be, and how to get him there before you write another word. It’s okay. Your character will wait for you. He’s not doing anything anyway. He’s just staring out the window.