Hola, everybody! Yeah, this is the first non-story post in…yeah, I have no clue. Work has been nutso, lately, but in a good way. I get to travel to help at another location once a week for a while, so right now I am writing this from my hotel room on a king size bed while watching Castle. It’s a strange schedule to get used to, so I’ve only been coherent enough to mindlessly scroll down Tumblr after I get off the past couple weeks. Well, that and work on my rotating list of projects. I only have so much brain space and I’ve had to pick and choose what gets done.
Being an adult is stressful
sometimes most times all the time.
So have a short post about middles, because middles are fucking hard and I’m learning a lot tackling mine. The middle can make or break your book, because this is where your characters do the majority of their growth, where you increase the odds, and where you find out if the story floats on its own merits or sinks like a dead body filled with rocks. So here are five tips to keep in mind so your story-corpse makes it down the river:
1. Be Ruthless, Rain Down Hell
Stories are about giving your characters shit cakes and watching how they deal with it and grow, and nowhere more does this happen than in the middle. This is the time to start cutting off escape routes, knocking their legs out from under them, and pushing them out of their comfort zones. Figure out what buttons they have and crane kick those suckers. Don’t baby your characters, or yourself. You both deserve better than that.
2. Choice and Consequence Are Friends
Whatever your character chooses to do, there will be consequences. Not always bad, mind you, but I’d say about 91% of your character’s choices need to dunk them in hot water one way or another. Maybe the consequences are immediate, maybe it takes a bit for the bite in the ass, but they have got to happen, and when they do it changes the game for the character in some way.
3. A Few Answers and New Questions
When you raise a question, answer it and raise a new one. Do not be like Lost, for the love of holy coffee. Mystery gets tiresome real quick when it’s all ??? and no !!! Does that mean you need to provide cut and dried explanations for everything? No. But neither does it mean you should ask, ask, ask, oh hey, let’s throw in some tropical polar bears, and not resolve. Just take a look at a normal crime show for some pointers. There is a dead body or a crime, we then have to look at the questions left behind (howdoit, whydoit, whodunit). Once we have those questions we can start answering them, and it’s up to you on how that happens, and if those answers are right or not. Progress of some kind has to be made, though, or you will lose your readers.
4. Escalating Tension
Imagine the middle like a roller coaster with varying ups and downs. Each subsequent rise has to be higher, and each low lower than the last. Whatever your character gains on the Good Consequence side has to be offset by worse Bad Consequences. Hero started dating the person of their dreams? Awesome, but Dream Hottie has ties to the Irish Selkie mob and they break up the date with seaweed and machine guns. What does the hero do about that? They can cut off contact (no possible kissing or nooky) and earn the wrath of the seaweed addicted mob or keep dating Dream Hottie (possible kisses and nooky, hell yeah!) and become embroiled in the mobster war against the leprechaun aliens over the seaweed supply. What are they gonna do? What happens after they choose? Who is gonna be king of the seaweed patch?
5. Two Easter Eggs
No, not the chocolate kind, unless you can actually make that work in your story. The Easter eggs I have in mind are Major Revelations, the game changing curves that give your characters a vomit inducing turn and sit in the cross roads at the end of one question and the beginning of real answers. In something like a murder mystery, these Easter eggs could be the revelation of a dirty secret, or a new suspect that your roller coaster has built up to. I like calling these moments Easter eggs because this is the juicy reward for the reader, the moment they start gasping wordlessly with high pitched giggling because they were right and it’s just as good as they thought, or holy shit, they did not see that coming and it’s better than what they thought. I figure that, for the middle, two of these rewards are a good balance, one near the middle of the middle, and the other at the climax of the middle.
Do you have any other tips or suggestions for tackling the middle of a story? Drop them in the comments because middles are fucking hard and new perspectives are like Nutella; awesome every possible which way no matter how you spread it.