Shelley Widhalm

Confronting a Novel’s Middle

In 52 Writing Topics, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on July 29, 2012 at 11:00 am

Middles can be like a big slump – the middle of the work day, the middle seat in the back of a car or the middle of a novel.

I am at the midpoint of my novel about a 35-year-old artist named Kate who loses everything in an apartment fire and tries to replace her belongings, only to damage herself in the process.

My writer friend gave me a beat sheet that outlines 15 beats of a novel from the opening image to the final image.

A novel’s arc consists of three large beats, those of the rising action, climax, and falling action and resolution. This description does not identify the middle, because the arc is shaped to rise along one long line and drop down in a slightly curved shorter line.

According to the beat sheet, the middle is the point where the main character reaches “a false peak or false collapse” (see “Blake Snyder Beat Sheet”). The stakes are raised for this character, who already is reeling from what appears to be bad news from earlier in the story. The bad news, such as Kate losing her home, sets her on the path toward the change she needs.

Fun and games follows, which for Kate is hanging out with her friends, though she continually thinks of the things she’s lost, such as her paintings, the ceramic kittens from her Nana and her teddy bear from her childhood.

But at the midpoint, this fun is over.

The next quarter of the story unfolds as “the bad guys (things) close in,” which, for Kate, are her friends who give her a hard time for being “so sentimental,” along with a few other losses that I haven’t fully worked out.

At the moment of “All Is Lost,” the main character has to give up her old ways, clearing the way for her to change. In the rest of the story, she applies the lessons she’s learned and her old world ends to make way for her new world.

I haven’t quite figured out those lessons for Kate, though they will have to do with the realization that stuff just doesn’t matter, including those friends that burn without sparking your fire.

In cases where the middle is sagging, I like to evaluate the individual scenes and chapters to see if they are needed and fit into the arc. Do they propel the story forward? Or do they seem like extras, a tangent that takes the reader in an odd direction without being tied to the story? Scenes and passages that cannot be cut will not require too much additional work to modify the story.

For example, I wondered if I needed Kate’s puppy, Flame, who appeared without my conscious planning. After thinking about my story, I realized that if I cut Flame, I would end up removing part of what is necessary to teach Kate what she needs to learn – that there is love in Flame, or love that comes out of a fire.

See Zoey’s blog, Zoey’s Paw, on middles at http://bit.ly/SPi9Mx

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  1. Beautifully written (as usual) love the bit abt losing “friends who burn without sparking yr fire”.

  2. Thank you, Tim, for all of your feedback on my blogs. You are an inspiration!

  3. Nice blog here! Also your website loads up very fast! What web host are you using?

    Can I get your affiliate link to your host?

    I wish my web site loaded up as fast as yours lol

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