Fiction 101: Part 10 – Don’t Let Your Middle Sag – Janice L. Dick

At my age, a title like this makes me take notice. I sit up straighter, pull my shoulders back and suck in my middle.

swayback horse

Adapted from http://goo.gl/nNe6vj

That’s what we want to do with the middles of our stories: Be aware of their presentation and do what’s required to improve them.

We’ve talked about Beguiling Beginnings with more than enough zip to catch the readers’ attention and pull them into the story. We may have a good idea where the story is going and how it ends, and often the ending is intense enough that we can hardly wait to get there. Perhaps we write it early on, to be adapted later. But now we must focus on what comes between an exciting beginning and an intense ending.

If you look back at Fiction 101: Part 8, the one about outlining or structuring a novel, you’ll see that we talked about various methods of structuring. One idea was the Plot Skeleton (from Angela Hunt). When we use the Plot Skeleton method, we start with the head (the protagonist), then the neck (the incident that starts things rolling), and then the ribs (the complications).

Let’s talk about the ribs. They run up and down both sides of the chest. Convert that image to a two-column page and put + on one column and – on the other. Something good happens then something bad, back and forth, balanced but with ever-increasing importance and tension as we go along until we reach the crisis.

If we use the rib scenario / two-column page, we can fill in any number of events that will sustain interest and increase tension as we move forward with our stories.

Another way to hold up the middle is with subplots. Wikipedia defines a subplot as a secondary strand of the plot that is a supporting side story for any story or the main plot. These subplots connect with the main plot in some way through one of the characters, either a major or, more often, a supporting character. Subplots are less important than the main plot, so they get less time in the scheme of the story, but they add interest and tension, as well as helping to fill out characters.

So, instead of getting bogged down with our main plot, trying to keep up the interest, we can employ subplots to switch up the focus to include other events, journeys and characters.

It’s also absolutely necessary to remember that character development is happening throughout the novel. Every scene should either move the plot along or show character development. Every scene should be based on a goal and include conflict and tension. It only all works out in the end!

The plot thickens, as they say, getting more involved. The characters meet more obstacles, face more discouragements. The goal of the main character as set out at the beginning of our story seems consistently more unattainable . . . right until the end.

All these elements make the reader sit up and take notice. What’s happening here? How are the characters ever going to come out of this in one piece? We must make the reader guess, frantically turn the pages, forget about dinner and bedtime. So let’s exercise our writing expertise, work out with subplots and character development, and make that middle firm.

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