Friday, March 27, 2009

Building Momentum in Your Middles

Well, I’m at the midway point of my novel, Sapphire Reign. My main character has just been declared dead. Is she or isn’t she? Things are looking grim. How’s that for a middle?

I’ve had ups and downs, drags and bursts of inspiration in getting to this point, which is mostly because of my just-wing-it style and penchant for intricate plots that weave mystery, suspense and romance with weirdness. It's predecessor has a little bit of weirdness. This one has a lot.

I’ve taken myself in uncomfortable and different directions in this endeavor, working with more description than I usually do, infusing deeper narrative internalization beyond direct thought, and also tackling grittier material and more physical scenes, both intimate and not. I also want to get in more action and physical altercations. I think that’s the most difficult thing for me to convey and show with words. I think I'd struggle with a gladiator battle.

Do you find yourself struggling with the middle, building up to that very important climax. The middle is basically everything between the onset of the story question and the end. We hear about story arcs and are told to think of our throughlines in this way, but that arched image may be hampering your writing.

An arc may not be the best visual of your book's structure. What if your story is more like a rollercoaster with many small hills and loops and one gigantic monster at the end that takes readers way up into the sky and then rockets them down below ground level into an unexpected, underground tunnel like the Superman ride?—Love that ride BTW!

With Kings & Queens, I didn’t suffer from the dreaded sagging middle at all because I built my novel like a rollercoaster and not exactly an arc. It doesn’t just go from A to B with one hump but takes readers over here to explore this option and then rockets them over yonder to check out that, all equally enthralling to get to the answers of who and why.

These little hills are called set pieces. They are things you can hint at or build up to. They are pinnacle moments of change, danger, revelation, and character experiences that take your story into delicious directions. If your story is begging to be a rollercoaster ride, then build little hills and turns along the way and make it so.

Some stories are more like an angular slope with little curve at all. Some are figure eights. Some are circles. Find the best shape of your story. No matter your story’s shape, everything needs to move towards a satisfactory end with good pacing. Here's a list of things you can do to fix sagging middles...aside from laying off the beer and Doritos.

* Increase tension/jeopardy/conflict

* Raise the stakes

* Add a twist

* Find ways to have your subplots affect your main plot like a domino effect

* Unlock a minor mystery then add another one

* Add a ticking time bomb

* Have your MC follow a solid but wrong path then set sights in a new direction

* Add a catalyst

* Add a cause that alters your character's motivation.

* Let a character adopt a new goal. e.g. The villain was after the little girl, now he's after your MC too.

* Give your character a new problem to deal with or goal to reach.

* Evaluate your subplots to make sure they're not creating drag

Your middle should never lose its intrinsic purpose as a connector from the onset of the story question to the end. Don't let it drag and sag. Make it gripping and interesting. Build momentum. You can do it. Write on!

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

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