5 Ways to Spice Up the Middle of Your Novel

I’m currently turning the corner in my novel from Middle to End. Granted, it’s a slow, long (really long) corner, but it’s a turn all the same. And as I started work on a particularly tricky scene last night, I found all the typical fears and insecurities cropping up again:

What if this novel is actually just terrible?

What if this is all some big waste of time?

What if no one will ever care about these characters like I do? 

What if this book never gets published?

What if this book doesn’t deserve to ever get published?

Each section of a book—Beginning, Middle, End—presents its own unique writing challenges and feeds off our insecurities in its own unique way. Beginnings, I find, like to try and whip me up like an omelet chunked with poorly made, extra-dense tofu—frenzied with a desire to get moving while also clunking and stumbling up against fears of the Big Blank Page, the Wide Clean Slate. Endings like to poke holes in the Me Souffle—just as I feel things start to rise and come together, the ending loves to stab it and watch it all deflate at the last moment.

Middles, on the other hand, are like grinding corn meal for the world’s most boring-tasting tortillas. Grinding and grinding and grinding me down until all that’s left is corn meal with no desire, no spice, and hands too tired to actually bother taking the next step from meal to tortilla.

So how do we combat all this grinding, grinding, grinding? Here are just a few tips and tricks I’ve found to help you push things through.

  • According to NaNoWriMo’s Claire Fuller, one technique to try out is simply to “make things even more difficult for your main characters.”

Put as many obstacles in their way as possible to stop them achieving what they want. Make them get side-tracked in a personal crisis, burn down their house, have them break a leg. In other words, up the tension.

Instead of a play-by-play approach, tell readers what has already happened. Because scenes are immediate and sensory, they require many words to depict. Summary is a way of trimming your word count and reserving scenes for the major events. You can also summarize whole eras, descriptions, and backstory. Summaries work well when time passes but there is little to report, when an action is repeated or when a significant amount of time has passed.

  • Try freshening yourself up by beginning your writing day with some entirely unrelated to your novel—a flash fiction writing prompt, a bit of poetry, a new short story, a blog post (cough cough cough), anything to get you thinking about new characters, new plots, new twists, new opportunities. Freeing yourself up this way may be just what you need to help get the juices flowing again, to help keep you and the middle of your novel from becoming bogged down and self-indulgent.

And speaking of flowing juices…

Hey, when you fake an orgasm, you gotta commit. You can’t just do a few eye-rolls and go “oooh, ahh, mmm, yes,” and then sit up and flip on CSPAN. You’ve got to sell it. Make ’em think it’s the real deal. Scream so loud the dog starts howling. Break a lamp with a flailing limb.Release the fluids. And that’s what you gotta do in the middle of your story. The “false climax” is a powerful trick — you make it seem like things are coming to a head, that the pot is boiling over, that the release cannot be contained. You want the audience to be all like, “Whoa, this feels like the end but I’ve still got 200 pages left in the book. SHIT JUST GOT REAL.” (Of course, do make sure the actual climax is even bigger, yes?)

Whoa! Put that knife down and let’s talk about this for a second!

Before you go chopping the heads off any character you see fit, stop and think about who is truly expendable. Sometimes a teacher, mentor, or best friend’s death can give your main character the traumatic push necessary to complete a goal he or she had otherwise lost the motivation to achieve.

But remember that death is, typically, permanent; so while killing off important characters may seem like a good idea, you may find yourself lacking subjects to write about if you do it too frequently or too early. Also, a meaningful death will have consequences, and you don’t want to rush the grieving process. Killing off  main characters can be great, but take caution: It can be just as fatal to your novel as it is to them!


Happy Writing!

Author Interview: Sean Pravica on ‘Stumbling Out the Stable’


I recently had the pleasure of reviewing Sean Pravica’s debut novel Stumbling Out the Stable for Cleaver Magazine. You may already be familiar with Pravica’s writing from his short fiction or from my first Fresh Writers Series post. Familiar or not, however, you won’t want to miss out on this often humorous, often heartfelt, often strange work of literary fiction, set for release on November 27th.

(Though you can  always pre-order now, of course.)

Stumbling Out the Stable is an irreverent trip down the turbulent backroads of early adulthood. Seamus, a college student with aspirations to hitch hike aimlessly after graduation, grows increasingly unsettled with the vagueness of the future. His friend Jamie, on the other hand, revels in its unpredictability. Together, they party with colorful characters, raise hell at their anarchistic workplace, and wax philosophic about life’s hidden glitches. After a series of accidents intersect their lives, the boys stumble to find their footing as it becomes clear that not everything in life can be avoided.


You can check out my full book review for free through Cleaver. Here, we’ll focus on a recent interview with Pravica over his writing process.

Happy Reading!

What first inspired you to write Stumbling Out the Stable?

I’ve got a chip on my shoulder about liberal arts colleges. My own experience ended up okay. I was an English major but also graduated with an emphasis in Creative Writing, denoting a skill. I interned at a newspaper as a reporter shortly after graduating so I had a body of work. And finding a career-oriented job still hasn’t been easy, so I’m grateful that I have.  

But not everyone who attends a liberal arts college, or even college in general, ends up okay and that pisses me off. My generation, called “The Me Generation,” by cynics older than us, like to call us lazy, entitled, and selfish, as though we’re the sole root of our work-life dilemma. 

Now, while these same cynics were likely quick to tell us throughout our lives growing up that a degree was our “ticket to anywhere” or some other such platitude, blaming them or even ourselves isn’t going to solve anything. It’s just important that we understand on the whole that whether we go to college or not, a direction is everything. Planning for something concrete, learning to do something concrete, is vital.

So the intersection between the aimlessness of attending college because it’s the thing to do coupled with the economic atmosphere of the recent recession inspired this novel. It’s not a book about good versus evil but about passiveness versus action. And because passive life planning is a very visible target, I got to have a lot of fun mocking it all along the way!

Who is your favorite character in the book and why?

Seamus as the lead is the lens through which the novel’s themes are refracted. Jamie as the main supporting character is a catalyst through which the themes are set into motion. He gets the edge as my favorite character.

Jamie is totally single-minded even though his mind isn’t particularly made up about anything. He acts without second-guessing himself. He pulls stunts at his menial job constantly and flirts with trouble just as often, but never ends up in it. He’s full of shit but not full of himself. And despite being full of shit, it’s a very genuine variety. He believes wholeheartedly that taking already-paid-for champagne that doesn’t get used at wedding receptions is an act of moral integrity. When Jamie’s in a scene, things happen, and I love watching him bounce through life pushing the envelope because nothing is trivial to him. For Jamie, every small rebellion is a victory. 

What was your favorite part of writing this story?

I love people and characters in general. This novel has many different characters, and many of them come and go. They appear, make some noise, and move on. I think that’s more authentically reflective of how our real social lives operate. There’s a chaos that can’t be stamped out no matter how wired we become. People continue to populate and depopulate our own personal worlds, and writing a novel that allowed for this authenticity of interaction was really fun.

The archetype of the Trickster seems to grin all throughout the pages of Stumbling Out the Stable. What was it like spending so much time thinking and writing about a pair of tricksters like Jamie and Seamus? 

I love how you phrased this question! The great thing about a novel is that characters quickly take on a life of their own once their motives are defined. Jamie and Seamus are motivated by standing up against authority. It does not matter how petty their stand is, it has all the weight of the world in their eyes.

With these two, the trickery emerged naturally. I don’t want to sound like a douche, but the stuff they pulled made me laugh as I read over it! What I liked about writing it is that they believe so much in their trickery. It had such purpose for them. They don’t just joyride in golf carts getting stoned when they should be working, they take ownership over their freedom to act as individuals. Seamus doesn’t just skip class because he doesn’t like school. He silently protests pretentious professors so he can go do something truly productive like take acid and shoot pictures of trees while simultaneously unlocking the secrets of existence as he meditates on misunderstood Zen philosophy. This kind of fuzz-head logic isn’t uncommon at a certain age, and the trickery is as much a mockery of my own characters as it is lighthearted funny episodes.

The style and voice of your novel differ quite a lot from those used in many of your short stories. What inspired this style shift?

Most of my work contains some element of magic, exaggeration, or just plain weirdness while this novel is completely realistic. This was an adjustment at first.

I felt that for the themes of this book, there was still plenty of room for those elements but they had to come from the characters’ way of thinking instead of through the content of the plot.

The fact that the world is completely realistic gives contrast to Jamie and Seamus’ thoughts about it, their exaggerated self-worth after rebelling, and their magical concepts about what they are certain reality actually is. This also gave me lots of room to bend the tone of the third person narration as it addresses the characters. Sometimes it’s tongue-in-cheek, sometimes it’s sober. Sometimes it’s overly sympathetic to characters while other times it’s overly harsh. Not being married to a constant emotional tone allowed me to play with the narration and make it yet another character in the book. 

How did you enjoy novel writing in comparison to short story writing? Do you think you’ll tackle another novel soon?

I like the process and the endurance of writing a novel. I like building relationships with the characters and giving them space to develop. Novels allow for layers that reveal why and how things happen. Short stories are so immediate that characters inevitably become one with the conflicts. In a novel, characters encounter conflict. They find friction, but get to enjoy autonomy outside of it also.

And yes, a new novel is developing.

What other writing projects are you working on right now? Do you have any other upcoming publications we can keep an eye out for?

There are no new publications pending currently. I’ve taken a little break from short story writing. I’m putting together, almost entirely mentally, what the next novel is going to become.

So far, I have a working title. I have the first sentence and the last sentence. I have two true lead characters. I know who she is. I know who they are together. But I don’t totally know who he is yet. This novel will necessarily take place in the city, as Stumbling Out the Stable necessarily took place in the suburbs. This next novel is likely to have some surreal and weird elements, unlike Stumbling Out the Stable. Thematically, it’s about delusion and the desperation that fuels it. I’m thinking I’ll sit down and write the sentences in between the first and last early next year and go from there. I feel like this one could happen quickly. 

10 Pencils That Disappeared and Why We Wish They Hadn’t

This post was just too random and wonderful—I had to reblog it! Though I must also add, in deference to Stephen King’s terrifying villain George Stark, Black Beauty pencils—Stark’s personal favorites—are, if not simply out of production, bizarrely difficult to get hold of nowadays.

—K.C. Mead-Brewer

We’re no strangers to out-of-print pencils.  Many pencils have come and gone over the years – many pencils disappear for good reason.  There are, however,

Source: 10 Pencils That Disappeared and Why We Wish They Hadn’t

The Poet, the Spider, & God

K.C. Mead-Brewer:

As many of you know, I rarely post or re-blog anything with a religious theme or bent here on Writing Reconsidered, but this article I wrote for the Living Our Faith blog is one I’m particularly pleased with.

In the crazy rush of the first days of NaNoWriMo 2015 (not to mention the crazy rush that is November generally: projects coming due, Thanksgiving and family coming to call, the upcoming wilds of winter), this article captures a moment of poetry-inspired peacefulness that I wanted to share.

Happy Writing!

Originally posted on Living Our Faith: St. Paul's Episcopal Church :

I have long been a dedicated reader of Wendell Berry, both his poetry and his essays, and often turn to his work whenever I feel a struggle in my soul for a moment of peace and wilderness.

His poem “The Peace of Wild Things,” especially, has always held tremendous power for me:

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water …

Poetry in general holds a great deal of the stuff of God for me, reminding me to be mindful, present, and appreciative as I move through a world filled with the Creator’s wonder and mystery.

The Bible itself—like many sacred texts from around the world—is packed with poetry, from the psalms to…

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Pre-NaNoWriMo Writing Prompts

The difficult thing about writing prompts is that they’re all a bunch of grandstanding liars. They try to pass themselves off as Must Do‘s:

If you’re using this prompt, you must follow me to the letter, using all seven words or using this whatever-phrase exactly somewhere within the text or whatever other random nitpicky rules.

In reality, prompts are at their best when they simply help get you thinking, and then that thinking takes on a natural life of its own, regardless of whether or not you actually do use those demanded seven random words.

Bearing this in mind, if you’re looking for something to help get you lost in your own brainstorm, consider these starting points:

  • Which childhood memory unlocks something for you and which one locks something away?
  • She’s about to leave the house when she spots a key on the hook that she’s never seen before.
  • Walking back, she could’ve sworn she heard the old oak tree sneeze.
  • The noise woke him up—something like a bee, though at once more menacing as well as more lovely.
  • The candles wouldn’t light. Match after desperate match was struck, but still the candles wouldn’t light.
  • The pine cones shivered off the tree in a startling chorus, running away from the only home they’d ever known.
  • Hot water popped out of the mug as the teabag burst open, revealing that much more than leaves had been left to steep.
  • The churchgoers (pious and otherwise) settled their cakes, casseroles, and bowls of fruit-dotted jello out along the table that was all too small.

Tetons & Yellowstone 2014 217

Some Literary Weird (and Cool)

Attic Office (2)
I may be glad to be with the family…but I sure am missing my Baltimore office!

I’m currently in Texas visiting the Mead side of my Mead-Brewer family. It’s always a joy, but it’s a particular joy right now since I got to catch the final performance of my mother’s production of To Kill a Mockingbird with Allen’s Community Theatre—she’s a fantastic actress, playwright, and director—and then discuss publication possibilities with my father—an equally fantastic biology teacher, adventurer, and photographer—who is currently thinking about writing a book on evolution (which couldn’t come at a more ideal time given his connection paleoanthropologist to Dr. Lee Burger and the recent Rising Star cave discovery in South Africa).

So! To celebrate the fun of having and getting to visit with such a weird and creative family, I wanted to share with you all just a few instances of Literary Weird (and Cool!) to brighten and strange-up your day:

Rose Eveleth’s Smithsonian article, “There Are Whales Alive Today Who Were Born Before Moby Dick Was Written

In Alaska’s North Slope, the population of bowhead whales seems to be recovering. But that’s really not the coolest part of this Alaska Dispatch story. Instead, it’s…

Krishnadev Calamur’s Atlantic article, “Reading It for the Articles: Playboy magazine will no longer carry nudes

Next March, Playboy magazine will reveal a new redesign. What the magazine will no longer be revealing: nudes.

It’s a change the company is attributing to the ease with which nudity and pornography are available online.

“That battle has been fought and won,” Scott Flanders, the company’s chief executive, told The New York Times, which reported the story Tuesday morning. “You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it’s just passé at this juncture.” …

Sue Thomas’ Orion article, “10 Words Technology Borrowed from Nature

1. Ecosystem. The internet is often described as an ecosystem (or a sky, or a park, or a jungle), and many of its parts are named after the natural world. …

Jillian Capewell’s Bustle article, “11 Short Story Collections For Your Inner Magical Weirdo, Which You Should Embrace Wholeheartedly

It’s easy to understand why some people idealize childhood. Kids are expected — nay, encouraged! — to use their growing brains to think up stories, create castles out of blocks and crayon masterpieces from blank paper, turn a pointed finger into a laser gun. Getting older generally means trading in those skills for a focus on practicality.

This is not without its benefits. Life is more manageable when you no longer believe there is an evil troll hungry for your eyeballs living beneath your bed — but it does lose some of its charm, doesn’t it? …

Victoria McNally’s MTV News article, “Celebs Shakespeare-ifying Pop Songs Is Your New Favorite Thing

These days you only ever encounter the works of William Shakespeare in high school English class (and every now and then, on the big screen), but while the Bard was clearly a genius, he wasn’t as stuffy and classical as your teacher would have you believe. …

Have a weird day!

Books for this Halloween

First things first…the finalists for this year’s National Book Awards!


Image from NPR, “Finalists Unveiled For This Year’s National Book Awards”

I can personally recommend from this list: Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap, Sy Montgomery’s Soul of an Octopus, and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me.

timthumbDeborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy is a terrific read. It’s got everything—witches, vampires, alchemists, murder plots, politics, dragons (well, wyverns, as Diana Bishop would correct me), the works. Harkness is a wonderful author, full of humor and action, but my favorite part of this series by far is its science history.

Anne Rice is always a classic when it comes to the creeps and crawlies, and her Mayfair series has everything you could want in a Halloween-time read.


Things Withered smSusie Moloney’s Things Withered is spooky-meets-subtlety, capturing the eeriness of—as the title suggests—withering, of things not going according to plan, of things gradually, gruesomely dying.

For a fresh and truly haunting ghost story, definitely check out Jennifer McMahon’s The Winter People.


A strange journey through the worlds of writing and publishing


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