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.
- Courtney Carpenter of Writer’s Digest suggests that authors don’t forget the power of summary.
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…
- Terrible Minds blogger Chuck Wendig recommends that we try pulling a When Harry Met Sally by Faking a Climax.
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?)
- And, last but not least, as Writer’s Relief staffers suggest…kill someone.
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!