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May 30, 2009

Mush in the Middle

Why do the middles of books, like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, tend to get so mushy, squished and icky?

I am trying to brush up my book and I think the beginning and ending are adequate, but Chapters 12 and 13 are simply undigestible. I honestly don't know what to do with them.

Some of the problems are:

* too many truncated scenes giving a staccato feel to the chapters
* low tension sub-plots
* time bridges
* scenes which serve to set up later tension but are otherwise boring
* merely cutting or combining scenes results in illogical sequencing

11 comments:

beth said...

Yeah, my middle definitely needs work.

Come to think of it, so does my beginning.

...and...er, so does my end!!!

Amber Argyle-Smith said...

Either add a new subplot or change the timeline. Honestly, when I cut my chapters, most of them were in the middle.

Solvang Sherrie said...

I feel your pain!

Icy Roses said...

I hate middles. It's during the middles where I think every day, "There are four hundred things I'd rather be doing than writing this...like writing my next novel...or going to the park...or stabbing my eye out with a pencil."

Middles are just gross. I don't know about you, but I'm not a big "planner." When I write, I come up with the beginning and the ending. The middle is what connects the two, and it's totally made up as I go. That's probably why it sucks to write.

Charles Gramlich said...

Since I'm getting close to the middle of my own book I'm almost afraid to say anything. I hate to conjure up the smushies. I know what you're talking about, though. Sometimes I find that I can add another chapter between the smushier chapters that punches up the level of action or tension.

Charlie said...

Hi Tara,
I have the same problem with my book. There are subplots in my story which must be told but they're not as dramatic as the main plot. As a result, a few chapters muddle along. I don't want to cut the subplots out as they set up the finale.

hmmmm

Reason Reanimator said...

I think middles are the hardest section to write simply because they're usually the longest section; more content must be thought up, written and revised. If you don't isolate middles as being different than the other parts, getting through them should be easier. (IMO, middles really aren't any different than any other section--pacing naturally can go up and down and up and down, so can tension, excitement and just about everything throughout a whole work and within each section.)

Just keep writing what needs to be written, and do not overthink the process by focusing too hard on specifics. Nearly all the problems you list could be strengths in a work (I personally like staccato feels, I also like moments of low tension because I can take breaths while reading and better digest what I have read). If you look at certain aspects too closely, as separate parts of the whole, they can start seeming uglier than they actually are inside the larger narrative. I also think where one part/section ends and the other begins is not often clear, is open to debate as the lines between them can blur, especially in a well-written work.

But maybe you've simply written too much in the middle. A middle can't be too long compared to the beginning and ending; if the middle's superlong, that could mean the story ran away with itself. Either chop off the extra middle you don't like, or fatten up the beginning and ending. Or maybe do both. You did say the beginning and ending are adequate; maybe adequate is not good enough for this particular story.

Or maybe my post won't be at all helpful: I don't understand writing long works in that microscopic way because I don't write that way (I write in a "wholistic" way), but that seems to be a popular method among other writers. Screenwriting is an exception though--worrying about this part and that part becomes more important there because the whole is intended for translation into another medium.

Plus, discussing works I haven't read is so inexact. Maybe you could post an example of the problem areas, though, again, I don't see how that would be very useful because how those fit in the whole won't be visible to everyone reading here.

Whatever the case, good luck working on your story!

laughingwolf said...

when things begin to sag, perk things up... with super sex! :O lol

Tara Maya said...

Reason, it is hard to discuss works in the abstract. But your comments were helpful to me. More than once, I've tried to cut one of the middle scenes I didn't like -- while looking at it under the microscope -- only to re-read the book as a whole and remember why it *needed* to be there.

In theory it sounds good to just chop out the middle between the beginning and the end, but in practice, it doesn't work. The beginning is a journey to a place, the end is an extended battle sequence. In the middle, the characters are at the place doing their thing. So it's kinda crucial. :)

Possibly, it's really the beginning I should chop, at least I've been told so by one beta reader. But, nah, I won't.

Your comment reminded me not to lose sight of the bigger picture.

Laughingwolf: Supersex. Check.

scott g.f. bailey said...

I have a theory about middles of books, and why they slow down. I think it's simply in the nature of long-form narrative structure, especially if you use anything like the 3-act framework. Act One is all building action with necessary exposition, Act Three is resolution of conflict, but Act Two sort of has to begin all over again. You need yet more exposition to get from the inciting incident to the climax, and it's like taking a big ship and changing course; it all slows down and you're not doing a lot except making the turn to the new course. The story has changed dramatically at the end of Act One and now you've got to sort of start over again and aim the big boat of your story at the climax. I don't know how to keep momentum going through that course change, and it seems like almost every novel (or movie, for that matter) built on a traditional structure has this moment of slowing before picking up speed again.

Dal Jeanis said...

The most successful books seem to have several sub-goals and reversals, with rising (or at least varying) tension.

If it seems mushy, it may be because the characters aren't strong enough in their needs and wants, or in the opposition / conflict to what they want. As one of my writer friends reminded me, you can write a scene where all a guy wants is a glass of water, as long as he wants it REALLY BAD, and someone or something is PREVENTING HIM FROM HAVING IT!