Of The Muddle of the Middle and Other Inconveniences

I am almost half way through my WIP (work in progress) – my steampunk novel The Department of Curiosities and have now reached the most dreaded (so I am told) part of a manuscript – the middle.  It seems this is where many novels fall into the doldrums. The real risk is to bore the reader, lose their interest or literally lose the plot.

Being an (up until now) pantser* – one who writes without a plan, by seat of their pants – I had been wondering how I would cope with ‘the middle’.  I borrowed books, read blogs and asked advice on the subject. Words like mud, tricky, difficult recurred frequently. I had had not faltered too much with my short stories, nor my novella, but this was my first full length story.
What was I in for?

victoria visual
Stories can be broken down into three basic parts, like a three act play:

  • Act 1. The Beginning.
    The reader is introduced to the protagonist, who is often still in her comfort zone,  experiencing her first taste of conflict.
  • Act 2. The Middle.
    This is where the action and conflict is ramping up. The protagonist is discovering more about herself, often creating bigger problems as she tries to deal with each conflict. Some short term goals have been achieved but the bigger goal or problem can still be only revealing itself.
  • Act 3.  Resolution.
    The end is near. The characters are close to their goals, reaching a climax. Conflicts are resolved. Loose ends are tied up.  The protagonist is often left changed by the experience.

I now need to reveal more of the characters, their motives. I need to find the moment when my protagonist examines herself, that defining moment which would direct the rest of the story. Was she going to realise she was going to die as the odds were against her? Was she going to learn a significant lesson about herself? Was she going to learn and grow from her experiences?

What does this mean
1. I need to start plotting* more and pantsing less: Increase tension! New clues need to be dropped, and old ones elaborated upon. I can no longer just hint at things. I need to start delivering, providing more information, and possibly resolve some minor back story to allow for the story to move forward. I need to create the foundation for further revelations and, yes, more clues to be dropped for new conflicts.

Resolution 1: More action! Secrets will be revealed (no spoilers here), new conflicts will arise. I have a newly tabled list of events and consequences (and sticky notes) to help this pantser keep on track. Though I can not guarantee things will not change as I forge ahead.

2. I need to remember to ‘show not tell‘: This requires at least minor information/ background dumps (that don’t sound like info dumps). How do I reveal some major character history, which is now required to follow the changing story,  and not make it sound like a list of  he said, she did, they were… etc.

Resolution 2: One piece of advice I have read recently said: Try something new. I grabbed my nib pen and started writing diary excerpts describing past incidents and the thoughts of the character behind them – without actually telling the reader the full implications that will be revealed later in the story.

With any luck, I can avoid the muddy middle and keep you all intrigued. Now I am off to write a death scene… oops did I say that. tee hee.

* For more on the definition of pantser vs. planner,  visit the NaNoWriMo website.


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