Making it through the Middle

Saturday was November 15th. For NaNo writers, that’s halfway through. I’ve been following people’s journeys on blogs and Facebook, and some people are already finished with their word-count goal (yay!), others are still working hard to get there (yay, again!)

Theoretically, a lot of NaNo-ers are somewhere around the middle of their novels. The MIDDLE. Whether you’re trying to write a whole book in thirty days, or just trying to write a whole book, the middle is often not a fun place to be. Lots of us start out on our projects knowing the start of the story and where we (for now) expect the story to end. We may even have a few big scenes that we know are going to happen along the way.

We rarely, though, have the whole middle figured out.  And that middle, while we’re drafting, can feel vast, bottomless.

In my critique group, we do a lot of brainstorming and, funny enough, lots of that brainstorming is about this middle section.  I thought I’d share one way we go at filling up that big space.

Take a look at your characters. All of them. What have they done so far and what should they be doing next. I literally make a list down the side of a piece of paper of my hero and the rest of the main characters. Then I write down where each of those characters are in their story arc. I might also write down (at the far side of the paper) where each of those characters needs to be, on that arc, by the end of the story. When you’ve got those lists, think about what each character could do–just one thing each–to make progress toward completing that arc.

The other way to look at their progress is goal-based. Each character has a goal. If you get stalled, see where each of your characters are in terms of achieving that goal (or failing to get the goal, if that’s where they’re headed). What can those characters do, what next step can they take, to push forward on their goal path?

Don’t forget interactions. You want these characters, especially your hero, taking steps that put them into contact, and conflict, with each other. Juxtapose your hero, on another sheet of paper, with the other characters. What action, discussion, or argument does your hero need to have with each of these characters, to move the story along?

If you’re still stuck, there’s one more trick. What information do you need to give to the reader. What do you know—about a problem, or a clue, or a piece of background story—that needs to show up on the pages? Once you’ve thought of that, go back to the characters again. Who can help you reveal that information? What pairing, usually with your hero and somebody else, would give you a chance to show the detail, rather than tell it?

And the biggest, most important thing: don’t stress. When you’re stuck, remember that you don’t have to fill up the middle all at once. All you need is the very next action. That action may not be perfect; it may not even be the event you end up using in the next draft. Don’t worry. Just pick it and write it and keep going. Worry about changing it or fixing it later, in revision.

Right now, whether you’re NaNo’ing or not, your goal is to get across this middle. Remember Red Light, Green Light? How many times did Baby Steps win over Giant Steps? Plenty. So Baby Step your way across the middle and, sooner than you think, you’ll have the finish line in sight!

Good luck to all of you!

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8 thoughts on “Making it through the Middle

  1. virtual hippe says:

    Thanks for making the middle make so much sense. Although my word count is strong, it is exactly where I am, and you have given me some great ideas on how I can tie it all together.

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  2. beckylevine says:

    Virtual Hippie (I’m still trying to figure out what your screen name really “means!”)–

    I’m so glad it helped. I think I’m kind of living virtually through some of your NaNo’ers this year, really hoping to join in NEXT year.

    Thanks for stopping by! Good luck with the second half.

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  3. virtual hippe says:

    Hi Becky,
    It is in reference to the way a friend used to describe me – She’d say I was virtually a hippie just dressed up in a corporate suit. In my professional life, my views were pretty alternative. The book I am writing this year for NaNo (my first) is a parody of corporate politics but with a twist of fantasy mashed in. It’s been pretty fun to write – in the right light there really are demons that lurk the office corridors – HeHeHe.
    Hope you join the NaNo madness next year, but keep posting those tips it really helps us uninitiated.

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  4. beckylevine says:

    Got it! Thanks for the explanation. I’m an unitiated, too, in NaNo. The timing has never been right. I’m going to work very hard to make it work next year.

    The book sounds wonderful. I’m just rereading some of Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series–a wizard in every day Chicago. I love the contrasts between the two juxtaposed worlds.

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