Lucinda Elliot

Mid Point Crisis in Novel Writing

grey outcastOh dear. It’s happened; I think I have come to the midpoint crisis in writing my latest.

This is the sequel to ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’. I had already done the first quarter – about 40,000  before I broke off to write, ‘The Villainous Viscount Or the Curse of the Vennns’. As it combines and hopefully resolves many themes, it is epic length, about 120,000 words.

I have moved fairly smoothly through the next twelve thousand words, and now, I suddenly feel I am running out of steam.

Small wonder: I’m at approximately the mid point, and this is the point that so often causes much anguish. There are various pieces of advice available online.

Some of it is excellent, but I was a bit dismayed by the advice of one writer on these infamous mid point doldrums, basically, that you shouldn’t have them because you ought to have written a plan before you  started writing.

I never write out a detailed plan. I  know the beginning and the end, and I  roughly know which way the story will go, but not in detail. Whether that is necessarily a bad thing I don’t know. I tend to think that it is.

Each time I swear that next time I will write out a plan. Each time I forget. That must say something about unconscious resistance to that highly sensible idea…

I certainly agree that the challenge of keeping the tension building, the conflicts increasing, and holding the reader’s interest until the end are of course, vital – and  it is here that the novel cannot afford to be loosely structured.

Rinaldo looking poshOne writer even stated that she usually abandons books at the mid point, rather than before. I find that interesting, as if I’ve read that far, a ridiculous sort of feeling that I mustn’t in some way ‘waste’ the effort that has gone before keeps me going. If I’m going to stop reading, it will be somewhere in the first quarter.  I have, however, sometimes been guilty of stopping careful reading somewhere round this point, instead ‘skim reading’ either to a more interesting point, or if it doesn’t seem in my view to pick up again, to the end.

That is, of course, anyway a qualified success for the author, as I do want to know what happens in the end.

These ideas on avoiding the ‘sagging middle’ in a book by defining the turning point from this website are apposite:

‘What’s a midpoint?

A midpoint in the realm of story structure is the point where your character moves from reactionary to action. He makes the leap to start going after his problem instead of running from it.’

Rinaldo in pubThis information on the following link is a good reminder of the function of the middle of a novel:

‘Our openings and climaxes usually work pretty well because we know why we write them. The book’s opening has introduced the setting, the major characters, the themes, and the basic “problem” or premise of the plot. The climax brings all these elements together in an ending that explodes with released tension. But few of us know why we write the middle, except to join the beginning and the end.

But the middle is more than a transition from point C to point W. The important middle scenes develop conflict and explore the setting, characters, and theme, while moving the plot forward.

The plot purpose is the most obvious– the middle scenes present most of the events of the story, showing how each leads into the next. The cause-effect chain of the story events must be strongest here in the middle. At the end of the first few chapters, the protagonist has embarked on a journey, and every event marks an advance towards the destination. But we have to be ruthless here so that the journey isn’t a meandering one with too many blind alleys– every scene should be centered on an irrevocable event that changes the course of the plot.

The middle is the time of rising conflict, where the “on-the-brink” situation in the opening chapters gets more and more intense…

200px-Eugene_Onegin_01_(Kardovsky)Another fundamental purpose is to develop the characters, especially the protagonist(s), so that their motivations are understandable and their actions clearly further the plot. These middle scenes also hint at and then gradually reveal any hidden issues or secrets within the major characters.

This is also where we develop the relationships between the protagonist and others. Their interactions, of course, will cause many of the important events– the conflicts, the alliances, the rivalries– that move the plot along.

The middle also has the purpose of deepening the “world” of the novel. Here you can explore the setting and its effect on the characters and events, examine the protagonist’s relationship to the society, and develop the themes or values that drive the protagonist and the society.

Most important, perhaps, is the evolving of the problem or question which drives the plot. If you’re writing a mystery, the problem is “whodunnit?” The question in a romance is “Why do they come to love each other, and how does this change them?” The middle of the book assembles the “evidence” that will eventually solve the problem or answer the question.

Finally, of course, the middle builds towards the climax, setting up the elements necessary for resolutions of the conflicts and the central problem or question…

The middle sags when some of the above purposes are unfulfilled, or fulfilled in a dreary way, or fulfilled not simultaneously but one by one. Experienced readers can identify these single-purpose scenes…

The middle can, however, be deepened and strengthened by following this advice: Have three purposes at least for each scene. One should be “advance the external plot”. For the others, consider these:

Develop character.
Show character interaction.
Explore setting or culture and values.
Introduce new character or subplot.
Forward subplot.
Increase tension and suspense.
Increase reader identification.
Anticipate solution to problem.
Divert attention from solution (but still show it).
Show how character reacts to events or causes events.
Show event from new point of view.
Foreshadow some climactic event.
Flashback or tell some mysterious past event that has consequences now.
Reveal something the protagonist has kept hidden.
Reveal something crucial to protagonist and/or reader.
Advance or hinder protagonist’s “quest”.

Obviously you won’t usually pick out three of these purposes and deliberately insert them into a scene. Rather, realize that action, dialogue, narration, description, and internalization can all be used in the same scene to add greater depth.’

So, taking all this fine advice into account, I hope I will yet survive not having a detailed plan (returns, sourly, to the keyboard, glaring at it as if it were an enemy)…

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