Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Long Middle

You've worked hard on your novel. The opening is a block buster. You know how the story will be resolved, but now you're faced with the long slog through the middle. It's been my experience gleaned from reviewing books, that this is where many stories fade.

There's lots of advice on how to attack the middle. Have a minor climax so you build up to a plot point before the slide into the ending and the major climax. This is good advice, but how do you get there. Some authors view the middle as a place for long conversations between the characters. The search for answers, particularly in a mystery, becomes a leisurely stroll. The investigators revisit old hypotheses and discuss them at length in an effort to decide what to do next. At some point, readers start turning pages wondering when something is going to happen.

On the other hand, some novels get so caught up in action that you almost have another story building up in the middle. I read one recently where the initial chapters focused was on horse racing, then action veered to drug smuggling, and finally ended with murder and a psychotic love triangle. I'm exaggerating a bit, but too much action can move the story away from the plot line, introduce new characters, and give the book a chaotic feel.

How do you handle this? In the first place, I recommend forgetting about word count. Sometimes I think the author gets carried away trying to get to the magical sixty thousand words so the book is a novel. (Anything less is a novella or short story.) If you understand your characters and their story, the length is a function of the interaction between their goals and the endgame. You don't have to, and shouldn't, pad the text with description, too much off topic conversation, and attention to subplots.

Readers like to get into the groove. They want to be presented with solutions to the plot puzzles as you go along. No one wants to wander around in an unfocused middle trying to figure out what happened to the driving force in the story.

It may not be easy to solve your problems with the middle. Sometimes there really isn't enough action to carry the story through the doldrums, but careful attention to character and an outline of plot points and the scenes that lead up to them should solve some of the problems.  

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