Writing Light Bodies, the second novel in the Clone 5 series, I’ve been considering the space between my promising beginning and my excellent ending. Every time I get to the middle of a novel, my momentum slows, my interest flags, my typing speed goes from plodding to downright poky.
The muddy middle. Ugh. That name depresses me and offers no comfort.
Nor does it offer even a hint of what to do about the creative crevasse that starts around page one hundred, or chapter 12, at my rate of play.
I’ve summited this terrible terrain eight times; eight complete novels prove that I have the capability. But how? Every time I’m there again, I think I’ve lost my skills, and I’m a failure as a writer slash mountaineer. (And in more melodramatic moments, I think I’m losing my mind!)
I realized organizing my climbing gear and giving it an inspiring name would help me spot the problem and surmount it. I wanted the name to say something about breathing new life… inspiration… maybe something with a Frankenstein-vibe, but I couldn’t pull it off.
So I tried Latin!
Presenting Vivifica Fabulam, translated as “revive the story.”
Once I named my toolkit, I made a list of seven things I found in it.
The tools aren’t discrete or complete. You might use one or several, and there are certainly more possibilities, but seven words work for me.
Here are seven ways to prompt a new direction:
In Knight in Check, my first finished novel, I gave the villain’s ex-sea captain minion a difficult backstory and a romantic subplot. It may sound like letting the inmates take over the asylum, but that sea captain became my favorite character—and he got me through the sucking vortex that dragged down three previous novels.
I added an obstacle in Naked in Public by introducing a nosy journalist who limits the main character’s movements and puts her under more pressure.
I changed perspective in Blue Loco by telling a central ‘mini-novel’ in the viewpoint of the main character’s brother, breaking up some serious, dark stuff with a lighter escapade.
I used the sea captain’s perspective in Knight in Check to let the antagonist hint at his evil plans. (I could have given him his own chapter, but I don’t enjoy villain-splaining.)
An additional storyline can mean a different setting, a parallel plot, new characters, and/or a separate perspective. A storyline is equally important to the story, unlike a subplot, which supports the main story.
In Blue Loco, the mini-novel acted as a limited parallel storyline that showed (rather than explained) how events in another part of the galaxy influenced the main character’s story.
Promoting a minor character like I did in Knight in Check or a introducing a completely new one like I did in Blue Loco’s mini-novel gives you a chance to show your protagonist in a new light, add a subplot, or tell the story from a contrasting perspective.
A flashback shows how a character began working for the antagonist in Bone Magic, and how the protagonist’s father died in Story Orphan.
I forced the main character in Ephemeral into a dangerous setting where his borrowed power does him no good.
Bonus pneumonic: SOPhiSTiCated FLASHBACK SETTING.
These seven tools are knots you tie in your story thread to make it longer and stronger. When faced with the gap in the middle, use them to cross the divide with more confidence.