Tightening the Middle

Okay, we’re on a roll here. We talked about the ending of a novel, but the middle is where many novelists find their story drowning. Never fear, though–help is available!
Writing Tip for Today: What are some ways to assess and repair the middle of your novel?

  • Step away from the Darlings. As novelists, we must learn to think of our words as being like Doritos: We can always make more. New writers are often very attached to every word they put down (some even claim the words are dictated by God), but an inability to revise stalls a novelist’s progress. In a novel, you must be courageous enough to jettison entire chapters if they don’t contribute to rising action and the  overall goal of the story.
  • Take another Step Back. If you use story board techniques, it’s easier to see at a glance where action flags, where’s there is duplication or marching in place. A scene list, 3×5 cards, a white board or sticky notes are just a few of the ways you can step back from the story and see it as a whole.
  • Simplify Subplots. Count how many subplots your novel contains. Map out where in the story they pop up. A good rule of thumb is two subplots for first-time novelists. It takes additional skill to ride herd on more. You may need to axe a subplot or two in order to streamline the story.
  • Try a Whack-a-Mole Approach. When you are planning the middle (the largest portion of the novel) try thinking of scenes where Character does x to overcome obstacle, only to have y pop up somewhere else.
  • Keep Locations and Metaphors to a Minimum. If your novel setting changes a lot, ask yourself why. Is there a good reason, or are you only trying to make your story more interesting, or perhaps in real life a similar event took place in more than one place. Each setting must feel natural. Readers will identify with the setting as a character, so try not to confuse them with a bunch of inconsequential set changes. With metaphors, pick one, possibly two. The same issue arises, when readers are left wondering which metaphor they’re supposed to pay attention to.  

Don’t forget! Tomorrow, June 24th, my guest will be Carla Stewart, author of Chasing Lilacs and new release, Broken Wings. She’s doing a giveaway, so leave a comment!

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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