About Book Middles

This post was a long time coming.  I wrote about novel writing beginnings way back on May 4th!  Ah, well, sometimes life intervenes.  I’d like to share with you more writing wisdom from Phyllis Whitney.  Today I’ll talk about middles.

Starting a story is fun and exciting.  Everything is new and the idea is fresh.  Then, about 100 to 200 pages into the book (depending on how long the story is), often the bloom fades.  Long ago I used to teach a night school creative writing class to adults.  I had several students who had 3-4 books started, about a 100 or so pages into the book and they just stopped.  They put the book aside and started another one.

Middles are hard.  The ending is far away and most of the pages have yet to be written.  Many times enthusiasm wanes and self-questioning starts.  Voices in your head start telling you:  Maybe this book is no good and I should start something else.  Maybe I shouldn’t even try to finish this.  (Never listen to those ugly voices, and never, NEVER delete or throw away any writing while you are in this mood.)

One way to keep from having a pile of unfinished manuscripts is to do more planning before you start the book.  But what if it’s too late for that?  What if you have the middle-of-the-book blues?  One solution is not to constantly re-read your story.  With each day’s work, only re-read the previous day’s work to recapture the mood of the scene and regain impetus to move ahead with the next scene.  If you are stuck on your story, go through all your character sketches again.  Plan new chapters.  Ask yourself some “what if” and “why” questions about your story.  Jot down any new ideas for scenes that come to your mind. If your mind stubbornly refuses to come up with any new ideas, try my “jump-start” method.

Jump ahead and write that special, exciting scene that you are still 25  to 50 pages away from.  That may be just what you need to get going again.  Then you can think of what might lead up to that scene and write it

Remember that “No scene should remain static, without movement or action, however small it may sometimes be if people are sitting in a room conversing.  There should be movement of plot, even if not of people, and a furthering of, or setback to, the character’s present problem.”  You should have small climaxes through the middle, with your character solving or defeating a problem, and facing new problems along the way to the end of your novel and the big climax.

These are only a few ideas to get through your book middle.  Do you have any special tricks to help you through the middle of your book?

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About Sue

From the time, as a young girl, when Sue read the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis, she was hooked on fantasy. She loves to read fiction and write within many genres, but she always winds up going back to fantasy. For years she has had fantasy stories spinning around in her head and now that she is retired from many years of teaching, she is putting those stories into book form. She has many interests, including quilting and playing the mountain dulcimer, but writing is the most satisfying of all. Sue lives in the great state of Maine with her husband of 38 years. She has been a factory worker, a waitress, a librarian, and a teacher. Her biggest job was being a mother and she has three grown children. Now that she is a grandmother, she is enjoying that role immensely.

Posted on September 9, 2013, in about writing, Authors - Sue Santore and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Very good thoughts Sue, thanks! I’m stuck in a huge way, but it’s not the same brand of blahs you’re describing.
    What you said about the 100-200 page mark really struck me- that’s right about where the first book of the LoTR trilogy really picks up steam! Many readers, after they’re done gushing, talk about “heavy sledding at the start”. I’ve often thought that fantasy tales have a kind of Patience Horizon for the reader- they pay it out as they read, trying to absorb all this world you’re showing them. And you’ve got to keep your promise, make it all start to come around before too long.
    So maybe the writer has a flip-side experience of that. Describing the world is EASY- but about 100 pages in, you’ve got to start making a story come around, and that’s a horse of a different color.
    I can’t say I’ve experienced middle-story blues, but in my longer works I definitely found that some things I had written got moved back into the middle as I realized which tale I was actually telling. Don’t know if that counts! But thanks again, it’s a lot to think about.

    • I agree that world-building is tricky, Will. You have to give enough of the world so readers can understand what is going on, but not so much that they get bored.

  2. Great post, Sue! I heard someone else say that about a third of the way into your novel you hit the “this is crap; I can’t write to save my life” stage and when that happens, you can look at your word count and estimate the finished length *lol* If it hits at 10,000 words, you’re writing a 30k novella. If it strikes at 30,000, you’ve got a standard 90,000 word novel on your hands, but if it doesn’t happen until 150k … well, better start thinking about how to break it into a series!

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