Tackling the “mushy middle”

Before I get into tonight’s post, let me digress briefly and say that the new system of keeping track of how much time I spend writing and researching each day seems to be helping.  Over the past week and a half, my writing and researching time has definitely increased, both in terms of total time during that period as well as time per day.  Now the trick will be to keep this up!

On to the subject at hand:  tackling the “mushy middle.”

I’ve continued to work my way through Martha Alderson’s great video series on How to Write a Novel, Memoir, or Screenplay that’s available on YouTube and recently watched Steps 14 (Plotting the Exotic World in the Middle of the Story), 15 (How To Plot the Recommitment Scene in a Novel), and 16 (How To Plot the Protagonist’s Rediscovered Gift).

All three of these videos focus on what she calls the “mushy middle,” the part of the book that can be the hardest to write because it can be so challenging to keep up the energy and momentum and suspense of the overarching storyline.

And all three of these address how to keep that energy going by giving the protagonist’s setting and environment a different and unique spin, by having the main character make a renewed commitment toward attaining his or her main goal, and by having the protagonist face his or her main antagonists (both internal and external) and begin to learn more about themselves at a deeper level.  From here on, the story should build toward the climax, with increasing tension and suspense to keep the reader engaged.

Of course, this is all much easier to describe than to actually develop in a novel.  So I’ve taken the advice of various writers and have been developing an outline to describe what will happen in each chapter, chapter by chapter.  I’ve arbitrarily decided on 20 chapters (though this will almost certainly change before the book is done), with five dedicated to the beginning, ten to the middle, and five to the end.

And you know, Martha sure was right about the “mushy middle.”  It was comparatively easy to build out the first five chapters and also to work backwards and describe the final five chapters.  Those middle ten are tougher.  I’ve completed the first two (chapters six and seven), though, and will take her advice to sketch out ideas for scenes and then work on building them out later.

The good news is that Martha’s ideas are helpful in figuring out where to have the story go and how to give it more structure and, ideally, energy.  Her videos have helped me think about my character and what makes her tick, as well as figuring out where the flaws and weaknesses are in both the original character concept and storyline.  Best news of all:  I’ve now written descriptions for 12 of 20 potential chapters.  This isn’t exactly moving at lightning speed, but at least it’s progress!


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