Sunday, June 17, 2012

Book in a Month Pt 17: Getting Through The Muddy Middle

For those of you who are working away on a novel and hit a big wall (like me), I just want to say that it is normal and you can get through it. Just keep writing, you can always go back and fix things later. Keep going. You can do it!

Muddy Middles
Even though novels have a beginning, middle and end, most of the novel is going to be the middle. I wonder why it is always the most difficult? The place where I get stuck?  Jim Butcher calls it The Big Swampy Middle, but I like to call it The Blubbery Fat Roll between the beginning and the ending.

If the appetizer gets our mouths watering, and the dessert is the sweet and satisfying finish to look forward to, how can I turn the main course into something special?

Let's take a look at the 3 Act structure of stories.

Act 1
Introduce the the protagonist and the antagonist.
Present the setting and story world.
Establish the tone and mood of the story.
Hook the reader to keep reading. 

Act 2
The "Trials and Tribulations" stage.
Character relationships develop and deepen.
The stakes are raised making the final confrontation more meaningful.
Set up for the final confrontation between protagonist and antagonist.

Action 3
The final battle/confrontation.
Tie up any loose ends.
Give a satisfying ending.

The goals of Act 2
Connect the beginning of the story to the climax and ending.
Make the climax more meaningful by raising the stakes.
Keep the reader reading, and make them wonder what will happen next.

What is the best way to keep reader's reading? 
Make things worse for your protagonist.
What?! No! I love my protagonist.. they already have this big meanie trying to ruin their goals, why would I make it worse?
It makes the protagonist face their weaknesses and fears, and grow through their struggle.
Wow, that's a lot like what I go through when I try to WRITE the middle.

Ideas for making your protagonist hurt:
Strengthen the opposition.
Crush their spirit.
Get them get lost.
Jeopardize their professional pursuits, or have them get fired.
Make them face something in their personal life that they must deal with.
Have them get hurt physically.
Test them so they must face their greatest weaknesses/fears.
Build the conflict, by making the obstacles more difficult.
Have an unexpected enemy show up to cause some havoc.
Have a friendly character turn out to be an enemy.
Add a ticking clock.
Make them face something that will change their way of thinking.  

Other (less torturous) ways to make it interesting:
Add a subplot, such as romance, or a relationship conflict.
Plan a big event to take place in the middle of the story.
Have an action scene take place.
Add a new character that will be relevant to the story ending.
Have an enemy character become become friends with the protagonist.

Raising the Stakes
Could the protagonist's failure mean drastic consequences?
Could the task be made greater/bigger, seemingly more impossible?
Could the protagonist be faced with a major dilemma?
Could the protagonist be made to face their greatest weaknesses/fears?
Could the conflict be enlarged so more than just the main character is affected, perhaps their loved one, the town or the world?

Jim Butcher's Live Journal is a cornucopia of writing genius.

Wishing on Daisies Progress: 9 days left
Current Progress: 14391 words
Chapter 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7- Complete. 
Chapter 8- Still in Progress

Do you have any struggles when writing the Muddle Middle? How do you get through them?


  1. My middle is suffering and needs a lot of moving about, but it's getting there slowly. I always find the middle the harrdest part, because its where I suffer the 'this is rubbish, why am I bothering, I should give up' side effects of writing. I like your advice. The best thing to do it keep going, and as I said to a friend the other day, 'if all else fails and you can't think of anything else, add in some monkey ninjas.'
    Great post :)

  2. Once again, great advice. The inbetweens of my novel was absolutely torture to go through. I already had in mind where I wanted the story go, but getting there and the smaller details that needed to be established were harder than I thought they would be. So, this kind of sums up all the advice one would need :)

  3. I kind of like writing the middle. It's where all the stuff happens. Like the twisty, upside-down, turny part of the roller coaster that you need before it gets to the really big hill at the end.

  4. This is a great post, full of some awesome advice.

  5. I've read so many people talk about struggling with the middle. With my first book the ending was my struggle. The beginning was rather straight forward. The middle was an eventful journey that I could have written forever. It was getting everything setup just right for the ending that drove me crazy. But yes, the writing must continue regardless of where the walls appear.

  6. A lot of great things to get over that middle wall, both for you and your protagonist. I will have an award waiting for you on my blog first thing Monday morning, if you want to check it out! :)

  7. Hmmm, ways to hurt my characters. *drums fingers together evilly* Also, Jim Butcher = awesomness!

  8. Never read Jim Butcher's stuff. I'll have to go check it out

    I love your section on making the protag hurt. It makes us writers sound like torturers or something. But that makes for interesting writing!

  9. It amounts to the 'same old' advice. Just keep writing. I'm part of the WritingSnippets podcast, and one of our guests once said that every author starts thinking "this is garbage" at between 1/3 and 2/3 of the way through the book.

    Just keep writing. It will come together, and if it doesn't maybe you're trying to turn an epic into a novella.

    As far as making the protagonist hurt--I think it was Louis McMaster Bujold who said she puts her characters up a tree in a crocodile infested swamp and throws rocks at them.

    My sister says I do that, but I just can't see it.

  10. You're making great progress! Don't let the muddy fat roll of a middle slow you down. :) Sometimes I have a clear idea of how to start a book and how to end it, but it's that middle part that remains unclear. I just push myself through it even if it means getting dirty!

  11. Ack! I hadn't heard about Jim Butcher's live journal! I'm SO going to check that out... I adore him... And such a fabulous post, Andrea... I'm getting to that point in my WIP, so this was a refreshing reminder for me. Thank you! :D

  12. Great advice on making the middle work! Will be following your blog for more tips (am new blogger seeking out connections so hope it's okay to follow!)

    1. Thanks for the follow. Looking forward to reading more of your blog as well :)

      Maybe we can help each other!



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