Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Marathon Middles

Okay, last week we talked about beginnings. So now we're going to talk about bananas.

Ha ha! Just kidding! On to MIDDLES!.

I'm currently slogging through the middle of the middle of Book #2 right now. It's like the scene in the swamp on The Princess Bride, except without the killer rats. Because that would be super cool. (Except that they didn't have killer rats in ancient Egypt.)

According to James Bell Scott, author of Plot and Structure, the middle of a novel is the confrontation. He says the middle should:

1. Deepen character relationships.
2. Keep us caring about what happens.
3. Set up the final battle that will wrap things up in the end.

This can be done by weaving together subplots and setting up battles between the protagonist and antagonist. I think my problem with middles is that I always know the beginning and end of the story, but I'm not sure how to connect those dots. So the middles of my first draft drag. I'm talking like I-Just-Ran-Two-Marathons-And-Now-You-Want-Me-To-Go-Hike-Up-A-Mountain Drag. (Not that I've ever experienced that, but whatever.)

So, what do you do to keep your middles snappy? Do you have to edit your middles a lot or are they the least of your troubles?


Adam Heine said...

"...without the killer rats. Because... they didn't have killer rats in ancient Egypt.)"

Poor Stephanie. So constrained by reality. You should write historical fantasy sometime ;-)

For middles, I've found that defining a midpoint (basically a reversal that changes the direction of the story) helps prop up those middles. Sometimes.

Matthew Delman said...

Yeah, middles are always an issue in my first drafts. I find I have to revise multiple times before I get the flow correct -- that also could have something to do with the story not getting consistent in my head until after the first draft is already written and revised a few times.

But that's just me. LOVE the reference to Princess Bridge, btw. I still can't see Mandy Potemkin in anything without muttering "Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." under my breath.

Then again, I also can't watch Lord of the Rings without adding "Mr. Anderson" to the end of Elrond's lines (darn you Hugo Weaving and the Matrix!).

storyqueen said...

I think I like the middles best, but that is only because I hate beginnings (because I struggle with achieving the correct voice for each book) and I struggle with endings (because it's hard to make sure you end a book the right way) so that leaves middles.....

(Love the fire swamp!)


Susan R. Mills said...

I think the key to writing the middle section is to make sure there is tension on every page. You have to keep the reader reading or they will never make it to the end.

L. T. Host said...

I agree with Susan-- keep tension on every page and it come a lot easier.

I actually adore middles, they're so much fun to play with. Here's how I see them, and how I handle drag:

-The middle is where things start to end. So, give away some answers/ secrets in the middle. This will satisfy your readers. They don't have to be major, but you can wrap up some threads. If you've been playing out how a character's relative (or a minor character) died, explain it here.
-The middle is only half-way through, though, so you can introduce new threads of plot and sub-plot, too. Give the main conflict a new twist.

I do this, layering reveals with twists until I get to the end, which wraps up everything that hadn't been already. So far, it's worked for me!

Joshua McCune said...

I just keep throwing dragons at the problems -- actually, it's problems at the dragons, but it's all pretty much the same.

Stephanie Thornton said...

Adam- If I wrote historical fantasy there would definitely be giant rats in ancient Egypt. And scorpions.

Matt- I love that line from the Princess Bride. I can't wait until my daughter is old enough to watch and understand the movie. It's a classic!

Storyqueen- I don't struggle to write beginnings, but I do have to do a lot to edit them. But middles are where I lose my writing mojo.

Susan- That's exactly my problem. I kind of wander during my middles, unsure of precisely how my characters are going to get to the end. There's not a lot of tension in wandering.

L.T.- Those are good tips. Now if only my characters will cooperate!

Bane- But there are no dragons in ancient Egypt! :)

Rick Daley said...

The toughest thing I have with middles is the pacing. I was also going to say some thing about racing to the climax and not finishing too fast, but for some reason it's not sounding right to me.

WORD VERIFICATION: muthe. A mother, in the hood.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

Nice word verification, Rick.

Stephanie, I think middles can be really difficult, yes. I get through them with a lot of chocolate and adding more and more and more conflict - in a structured way, of course. ;)