If you are tuckered from struggling to make it up and over the mountain that is the middle of your WIP, no worries. Here are several suggestions for fighting through the MESS-in-the-middle blues.
1. Flesh out character backstory. The more a reader knows about the “why,” the more he or she can connect with a character. Middles are for character development, both protagonist and antagonist. Dive into the second or third layers of those onions. Without strong, interesting characters, a story is just a series of actions without heart. A fast-paced action novel has its place in the market, no question, but use your messy middle to give readers a reason to also emotionally connect with and root for (or against) someone.
2. Drop in plot-furthering events. You know you want to get from Point A to Point B. What events can make that happen? Compile a list of sticky situations or specific events that will further your plot. This can be as simple as:
- Frank bumps into his ex at a bar and meets her new lover.
- A suspicious person is seen looking in Frank’s window.
- Frank receives a threatening letter with a dozen black roses.
- A riot occurs outside Frank’s massage parlor.
Try for scenes that naturally include tension (emotional or physical) between friends and/or between foes.
3. Be disorderly. Don’t obsess about writing scenes in the order you think they should fall in the story. THIS IS A FIRST DRAFT. If needed, you can rearrange scenes later, during the editing phase. Write scenes in an order that keeps you writing, pushing your word count higher and closer to that Point B ending. Re-order at a later date, when you’ve managed to get the bones of the novel down and are ready to push up your sleeves on that second, healthier, not-so-disorderly draft.
4. Skip it. There are going to be scenes that require more research. There are going to be scenes that require the right emotional frame of mind. There are also going to be scenes you'd just rather avoid writing at this moment. Don’t waste valuable time on something that slows you down. Write a simple synopsis paragraph about the chapter or scene you are avoiding. Use that paragraph as a placeholder. Skip over what you dread and write the scenes that excite you or that you feel prepared to take on. By the time Point B is in sight, you will be more motivated than ever to return to the placeholders and make "the end" a proper finish.
5. Refrain from editing. Again, THIS IS A FIRST DRAFT. Going back to “clean up” the first third of your story, every chance you have to sit down and write, may be a subconscious attempt to avoid dealing with the messy middle. Early over-editing could result in never getting to Point B. If you really can't silence your inner editor, only go back a few pages (a chapter or less) from your last stopping point, so you can scratch that editorial itch, reacquaint yourself with where you left off, and allow new writing to flow.
6. Do the math. Set daily goals, weekly goals, or monthly goals (National Novel Writing Month – Nov.). Keep track of word counts. Hold yourself accountable and get it done.
Most novels have three acts. Act II may be the hardest to write, but, eventually, you’ll breach the top of that MESS-in-the-middle mountain and find yourself barreling down the slippery slope toward Point B. That’s a time to celebrate. You can do it!
Happy writing, my messy friends.
Artwork courtesy of Michelle Haas.