Tonight’s guest blog post, on the topic of the middles of novels, is brought to you by novelist and creative writing teacher Heidi M Thomas.
Shore Up Your Sagging Middle
Writing is a lot like building a bridge. Each scene serves as scaffolding or supports for your entire story to rest on without sagging.
Maybe you’ve made a great start. You have a dynamite hook (some of my favorites: “The last camel collapsed at noon.” (Ken Follett) and “The man with ten minutes to live was laughing.” (Frederick Forsyth). You’ve gotten off to a good strong start. Maybe you know how your book is going to end, and even have the final scene written.
Now, how do you get through the middle part without it sagging and possibly collapsing?
First of all, you don’t need to write chronologically. You can write scenes out of order. Pick out some highlights and write those scenes, then see if you can figure out what you might be able to fill in between A and G.
Now, send your inner “nice guy” out for ice cream and figure out just how mean you can be to your character. Conflict is the key to keeping a story moving, to shoring it up. You’ve introduced your character and the problem she has to solve. You know what the goal is at the end.
Let’s say Cathy Character wants to be the first teenage girl to climb Mount Huge. What are her obstacles? Her parents are against the idea. It’s too expensive, too dangerous, she’s not in shape, who else is going, etc. Cathy has to overcome each objection, solve each problem.
Maybe her neighbor is a banker, so she approaches him for a loan. If he smiles and says,” Sure, Cathy, anything for you,” the problem is solved too quickly. The story can get boring and the reader’s interest will sag quickly.
But what if he says no? Now Cathy has to figure out another way to raise money. What should she do – a bake sale, a part-time job, rob the local drive-in? (You can see the various paths this story could take.) There are all kinds of ideas and none of them should be easy.
Every time your character figures out a way over, around or through a problem, throw up another obstacle, within reason, of course. You don’t want her to fail at everything.
But when she solves the money part of the problem, there should be another one waiting. Who, besides her parents, are going to oppose her? Does she have a rival? Or is there a friend who is supposedly helping her, but is actually sabotaging Cathy’s efforts?
Building a story is like constructing a bridge. You need conflict as the pillars that shore up the middle.
For each scene you write, ask yourself:
- What is the purpose of this scene?
- Does it move the story forward? (What if I take it out? Does the story flow well without it?)
- Can the reader identify with the character’s problem and struggles?
- Have you created suspense? (Will the reader want to keep reading to find out how your character solves this one? What’s at stake for him/her?)
Have fun being mean to your character and building your bridge!
Oh, I do. Thank you, Heidi!
Heidi M. Thomas grew up on a working ranch in eastern Montana. She had parents who taught her a love of books and a grandmother who rode bucking stock in rodeos. Describing herself as “born with ink in her veins,” Heidi followed her dream of writing with a journalism degree from the University of Montana and later turned to her first love, fiction, to write her grandmother’s story.
Follow the Dream is the second book in the “Dare to Dream” series about strong, independent Montana Women and is a WILLA Literary Award winner.
Heidi is a member of Women Writing the West, Western Writers of America, Pacific Northwest Writers Association, Skagit Valley Writers League, and the Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She is also a manuscript editor, and teaches memoir and fiction writing classes in the Pacific Northwest.
And a synopsis of ‘Follow the Dream’:
Nettie Moser’s dreams are coming true. She’s married to her cowboy, Jake, they have plans for a busy rodeo season, and she has a once in a lifetime opportunity to rodeo in London with the Tex Austin Wild West Troupe.
But life during the Great Depression brings unrelenting hardships and unexpected family responsibilities. Nettie must overcome challenges to her lifelong rodeo dreams, cope with personal tragedy, survive drought, and help Jake keep their horse herd from disaster. Will these challenges break this strong woman?
Follow the Dream is based on the life of the author’s grandmother, a real Montana cowgirl.
If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.
The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with mystery / YA / non-fiction author Cindy Davis – the four hundred and ninety-seventh of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.
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Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are fortnightly episodes, usually released on Sundays, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.