Saturday, August 21, 2010

Spicing Up The Middle

My main character and I are holding hands as we leap into the middle of my work in progress. After a brief panic attack, I opened up my trusty book, Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell (I heart you Mr. Bell...seriously).

Bell offers these suggestions to spice up our middles:
  1. Analyze the stakes. What will our main character lose if she doesn't achieve her objective? Unless it's major, our readers won't care.
  2. Strengthen the adhesive. What ties the protagonist and the antagonist together? Keep it strong.
  3. Add another level of complication. Our poor little protagonists must be tortured by us heartless writers. We should think what's the worst that can happen? Then do it.
  4. Add another character. Someone from the past who makes things miserable for Ms. Protag? Hmmm.
  5. Add another subplot. Bell suggests we use this one sparingly, as the subplots must be organic.
  6. Push on through the wall. At this point, our confidence level may drop. We might feel as if our book is headed straight for the bottom of the bird cage. This is the wall, and Bell reminds us that most novelists hit it at some point in their first drafts.
By the time I'm done, my main character might want to slap me in the face instead of holding my hand. I can live with that. My job is to make my book as strong as possible.

How do you tackle your middles? Please share your secrets!

photo credit: Barnes & Noble

25 comments:

  1. Those are great suggestions!

    I tackle my middle before hand with plotting. I center my middle around the big reveal or twist that changes up the story for my protag. So the scenes before the big twist lead up to it and the ones afterward deal with the aftermath and replanning of goals. That's putting it simply; of course, I still struggle through the middle, like everyone else. :)

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  2. Great post, Julie.
    I tackle my middles by figuring out how to keep the story interesting while the character is trying to finish his or her mission or simply trying to confront the antagonist. I add in characters that move the story along and I put in some adventure and action to spice it up.
    The way I see it is if you don't give a reason for the reader to stay interested they very well might put down the book.
    And yeah, sometimes we do have to torture our main character(s) more than we would like to, but I think in the end our MC will have to hold onto our hand because let's face it they can't get their story anywhere without us working like heck to get it published.

    Happy writing,
    LReneeS

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  3. Middles and I don't get along. I first run away screaming, then come back and buckle down until it's done.

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  4. What an excellent post, Julie! I am in the middle of my story now and I needed this SO BADLY! I can see clearly that I'm on the right track in places, but not following through in others.

    There really is so much to remember when writing, it's important to stop and analyze by asking, "What am I doing?"

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  5. I will come back to this when I look at my ms. again, about a week from now. Just to see how my middle is coming along. I think I'll look for that writing book, too, it sounds good! Thanks for the tips.

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  6. Hi Julie - your post has come at just the right time. I struggle so with pushing past the first few chapters and have spent the last few days chewing up and spitting out ideas. I must have all our local library's books about plotting sitting on my kitchen table, but perhaps I need the one you're quoting!

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  7. I hit a wall with my first two first drafts. I kept on going, refusing to quit. With my third, it was a breeze from beginning to end. The difference is I had no outline which still has shaking my head in wonderment.

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  8. I also struggle with my middles--I know where I need to get to and that is usually where I add in a twist and some more conflict.

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  9. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on middles! They're tricky little buggers.

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  10. I may have to crack open this book again too Julie. I'm in the middle and I'm trying to focus on character inter-relationships and the MC's story yearning. My sub-plots also get juicy in the middle too.

    Good luck! :)

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  11. That's great advice - middles can be so tough! Thanks :)

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  12. Oh, I so have (and have read) PLOT AND STRUCTURE! Great resource.

    Stopped by to let you know, I just posted an interview with literary agent Laurie McLean on my blog: www.kayemevans.com/blog

    She provided awesome info, the most substantive answers I've received from a literary agent. Hope you can check it out!

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  13. Can't we just skip to the end? No? Fine. Then I guess those are some good pointers.

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  14. Hi Julie..perfect timing for this post as currently I am tackling the middle of my WIP. I plan to raise the stakes, make the protagonist and antagonist clash and add a twist to the tale. Hopefully all this may spice up the saggy middle.

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  15. Thank you so much for this. I was kinda needing it... *frown*. Beginnings and ends, no problem. But then the middle. I tend to put too much stuff in the center. Good for Oreo's but not stream lined stories.

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  16. I love that book! James Scott Bell is a writing genius!

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  17. I'm so glad I got myself a copy of that book so that I can cure my potentially sagging middles.

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  18. Hi Julie! I think tackling the middle really comes down to layering. How many problems/conflicts have you already layered on your MC and how many have been resolved if any? Would the reader feel a sense of urgency and desire to continue reading? Good luck!!!

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  19. This is one of my favorite "How to" books. I'm so glad you mentioned it, I heart Mr. Bell, too.

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  20. That's some great advise. I might have to look this book up!

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  21. Oh, my poor protagonist. She's really cool. Can't she just have a conflict-free existence?

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  22. I focus on action, action, action. If the story isn't moving and my MC isn't constantly battling, it's not working.

    I like that you and your MC are holding hands. :)

    Good luck!

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  23. i've never heard of this book, but great post -- and i totally agree with item number one on the list: stakes, stakes, stakes!! i think i'll actually print out this list to refer to as i get deeper into my current wip-

    p.s. thanks for your lovely comments over at my blog♡

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  24. Thanks everyone for your comments. If you don't have Plot & Structure, I highly recommend getting it!

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