Friday, January 18, 2013

Middle Mayhem

Before I launch into today’s blog, I do want to preface a point-- any and all writing advice, suggestions, madcap ideas that you are exposed to here-- are just ONE writer’s way of doing it.

The ideas may work for you – they may be absolute crap for you.  Just wanted to remind folks there is no absolute RIGHT way to write…so don’t break your neck trying to follow all suggestions from all people.

OK, Public Service spot over (prompted by a post I saw from a very confused new writer on another blog!) Now on to today and my current writing issue.


Ya know, I don’t think I have ever met an author who openly admitted to liking the middle portion of their book.  At least not while IN the middle of it.  Whether plotter, pantser, or somewhere in-between—it seems that middles are a pain for a majority of writers.

Either there’s too much mayhem going on, or not enough. 

Beginnings are great, the excitement of a new world, new characters, and new adventures.  Endings are thrilling, even in a series, you’re finishing up something big, a story arc is coming home to roost.

Middles are just…there.

Middles can go one of two ways (well, three really, but the third way is when they do exactly what they are supposed to do—more about that later).

The two ways they can go wrong is to putter out or explode. Puttering out is probably more common for pantsers. You’re steaming along, things are getting interesting, then you hit a “then what happens” moment. Problem is, when you’re telling the story if you don’t know, then who does?

One way I’ve come up with the help get by this is to have a nice conversation with my main characters. I ask them at this exact moment in time- what would be the thing they would want the absolute most. What would bring them untold happiness and joy. Really detail it out.

Then do the opposite.

At that precise moment in time- what is the worst thing that could happen (something I’m sure we always are asking- but a muddled middle sometimes means we lost that). Do that worst thing and go with it. Try and pull your characters apart. Give them crappy weather. Have the damn break. Wash out a road or two.  Destroy the dilthium crystals. Whatever it is- do it.

I don’t always keep all of my middle worst case events in (I aim to go over the top)- but it gets me moving.

After that, I look at my end goal. Where do they need to be by end of Act 3. How many other things could go wrong before they get there? This usually gets me past the muddled middle and solidly into the final act.

The other way middles can go wonkie (and sadly, these sometimes end up in books too) is mayhem middle. Too much is going on and the reader (and I’m thinking the writer) kinda gets lost. Could be a case of applying the worst case scenarios without editing them back in a later draft.

My suggestion would be to really take those middle scenes apart and pull out the main line. What do you need to make the scene do what it needs to do. Then slowly add a few bits at a time so it’s not so naked, but hopefully no longer as gaudy ;)>.

Which leaves us with what middles should do.  They need to pull the character deeper into their “new world” and the reader right along with them.  They need to raise the stakes, and have the character move solidly into the point of no return. They also need to make a logical path for the character arc from beginning to end, as well as one for a twisty, turny (but still logical) plot.

Those are my views on middles—what about you?  Major problems?  Ways you’ve beaten them into submission?  Please share!



  1. Thanks for the post. Middles are treacherous! These tips help. One tip I came across that has helped me is that sometimes middles sag because too much information was given away in Act I. If we set things up in Act I without giving too much away, everything will roll into ACT II and come apart!

    1. Great point Noemi! I hadn't thought about that, but if het so excited with the events in Act 1, we may be looking around by Act wondering what's left ;).

      Thanks for coming by and the great tips!

  2. Good post. I sometimes find I am being too nice to my characters, and that's why the middle is sagging. Like you, I enjoy playing "what can go wrong" and picking the most wrong thing. Fun!

    1. LOL! WE gotta be cruel to be kind, you mean? (sigh- old song, you younguns) But good point, Janet. Maybe warn authors- if your middle is sagging, go see where you could have messed someone up!

      We're kinda sick-huh?

      Thanks for coming by and the tip, Janet!

  3. For some reason I don't have issues with middles. Well, okay, I do sink into a bit of a depression once it becomes apparent that the story does not yet fit the bright shining vision I had when I came up with the premise, but I've learned to power through that. It's the ending that always gets me. I hate, hate, hate that last chapter.

    1. Hmmmm...walks around Shoshana carefully. Don't hate middles, eh? Any tips for not have the middle troubles? SHARE!

      Now see I love the last chapter- or rather I love writing it. It's usually crap the first draft, but after a while it shines ;). Thanks for coming by- and if you have any middle tipes- share!

  4. Great post, Marie. I agree with Naomi about not giving away too much information at the beginning so that you have something to fill the middle of the story with.

    I think that: Your beginning should introduce characters and give them a problem or goal to work toward, but you flesh them out in the middle. The middle is where you can show (example) your hero's distain for abusive bullies, by having him deal with them, probably more than once and in varying degrees of success. It is fun dreaming up ways to do this that fit in the story context. You can show your hero's true inner character here by showing how they handle their problems. And I like giving them lots of problems In this way you can slowly reveal what it is in her past that has made her this way. Using these examples to deepen her story trouble. I find that the middle provides opportunities to make my characters real who were hastily introduced in the beginning. The middle is also a great place to continue with the foreshadowing started in the beginning. It's all kind of like a downhill ski race. The skier (hero) bursts out of the starting gate building breakneck speed only to encounter problem gate after treacherous problem gate on this slippery slope, all of which must be negotiated (by slowing or twisting or turning) to reach that last sprint to the finish line where the congratulations or condolenses are finally received. It is how well the middle is handled which wins the race. The same can be said of the all important middle of the story. The middle is where I want to try to deepen the reader's involvement with my characters, increase their desire to see the outcome of the story and give them real fear that the hero may not succeed.
    I sort of love middles.


    1. Two of you who LIKE middles?! Sigh- you're blowing my story here, gals. ;)

      I agree, Sharon, I would love for all of those things to happen in my middle. And in theory, they eventually do. It's just that first draft where I seem to have the breakdown ;).

      Thank you for coming by and I'm glad you love middles (even if I think it's odd...good...but odd ;))