Thursday, December 2, 2010

the middle morass

When my husband and I dine out, we often order appetizers, which we find to be the most inventive and interesting dishes on the menu. The other night, at a restaurant known for its creative chef, we were hungry enough to ignore that habit and ordered main courses. Mine was a very plain chunk of cod with a sauce that was indecipherable. Michael's was a steak slathered in a sauce far too decipherable, and couple of measly slices of potato. "Ugh," Michael said. "We should have known. A meal is like a book. The middle is always the worst part."

As a reader, I certainly find that to be true. I often find the energy lagging in books and I'm tempted to jump to the last few chapters (dessert!). Furthermore, as a writer I encounter the kind of writerly exhaustion to which Liza alluded in her last post, around page 150; in other words, the middle.

Some things can help. If I write the ending chapters (as I am tempted toward as a reader), I can trick myself into working backwards, so I don't notice when I get to the middle. The randomness exercises that Liza mentioned, be they Ron's talismanic words, my picture cards, or just plain reading articles on subjects far and wide, can push me through. Another way of getting through is to write chapters that I do not plan to use. Often, though, the only solution is setting the manuscript aside for a couple of months (something which I recognize is not always practical in a graduate program).

Well, I've finally finished the two books I've been working on: one adult, and one MG. On the first, it simply took years and years of writing and tossing, writing and struggling through the middle. On the second, I was helped along by a brilliant agent, whose advice supplied the key to unlocking the structure of the book. Does anyone else share this middle morass? What do you do about it?


  1. At the end of the Whole Novel Workshop in Honesdale, where Phyllis and I taught together, everyone gave a five minute reading from a work in progress. I read a chapter that I thought was in the exact middle of a novel. A student asked, afterward, if that chapter was near the end. And I realized it should be. This allowed me to restructure both the middle and the end of the novel. As so often happens, it is the outside reader or listener who can help us through the dreaded middles of our stories.

  2. We had several post on this subject about a year. I never get sick of it: The muddling middle! Perhaps this is wrong to admit and maybe even not the point of this at all but I think almost every book I read has that middle section where I get bored and want the end to come. Is it poor writing? Doubt it. Is it my own impatience to get to the delicious resolution (the creamy caramel center of a chocolate)? Of course, there is my boredom with my own writing and the middle sections that is the worst. The moment in the middle when I think I might possibly fall asleep in the middle of typing. I like the idea of working backwards.

  3. Reminds me of my favorite quote: If you're bored writing it, it's probably boring.

  4. Absolutely Rebecca. And yet sometimes even though what you are writing is boring, it is supposed to be there. I love the exercises to spice up the writing, or to tighten the tension. (Hint. Hint! Bring them on authors!)

  5. I've noticed that when I take Donald Maass's advice and add tension to every page, the MC starts coming alive more. She's not just walking through the story, she becomes an active player. Now she's suspicious. Now she's scared! Now she's going head the scoundrels off at the pass.

    Also I find it really helps to kill people off in a story. Even if you write a scene where you kill 'em and then throw out the scene, the characters you killed and the others around them suddenly become extremely motivated. Obviously you can't do this too often.