The Writing Craft – The Murky Middle
This week on the blog, I thought I’d talk about the ‘murky middle’. If you’ve not heard the term, you can probably guess what it means. It’s talking about when you might start to run out of steam or lose your in the middle of your novel. Things can get a bit, well, murky.
It can happen to everyone, whether you’re writing or editing, whether you’re a plotter or a pantser (head here if you’re not sure what this distinction means!). I often find it happens to me. As a plotter I’ve done a lot of outlining beforehand and thought about the different plot points and scenes that happen in the novel. I have a rough idea of scenes and know the ending.
9 times out of ten, though, I get hit by the murky middle. At some point I realise I have nowhere enough content planned and start to run out of steam. It’s like the beginning of my novel is point A and the beginning is point B – and I’ve run out of interesting things to write to get from one to the other.
So, here’s a few ideas that might help for when you get bogged down in the murky middle:
1. Go back to your outline
It might sound obvious, but especially for plotters, your outline is your first port of call if you get stuck in the murky middle. Spend some time thinking about where you are and what has happened to your characters so far. Even if you’re a complete ‘pantser’ at heart, considering different scenarios for your characters might help you with a way forward. Personally I often find plotting in a notebook helpful here. There’s something about putting pen to paper that helps ideas spark.
2. If in doubt, add conflict
I talked a bit about this in my last writing craft blog post about antagonists – that it’s the conflict that keeps the story juicy and interesting. What else can you do to your characters to thwart their goals? Could you add a twist encounter with your antagonist, or make a storm halt your character’s journey? For me writing historical fiction, I can always just make the enemy appear on the horizon if I think some extra action is needed! For you maybe there’s a secret backstory that comes to light in one of of your characters, or an important item goes missing.
3. Add some stillness
This might sound like a contradiction to my previous point, but just as you can add more action to move the plot along, you can also have your character pause for a scene. Having loads of action or conflict scenes or twists one after another can sometimes feel overwhelming. Sometimes it’s in the stillness when your main character reflects on their journey and goal so far, or taking time to look at a sunset, when a way out of the murky middle presents itself.
4. Try a different project
The murky middle can sometimes become writer’s block, or editor’s block. When this happens, often the best thing is to switch to a different project. If you’re deep into edits, for example, switching to drafting something completely new or taking 15 mins to just write whatever comes to your head can get your creative juices flowing. This in turn might give you the buzz you need to get out of the murky middle. Again a notebook might be helpful here.
5. Take a break
If you’re finding it hard to switch to a different project, or that writing sprint doesn’t help you get out of the murky middle, perhaps take a break altogether. Take a walk, read a book or try a different creative hobby, like sketching or baking. One of these things might spark an idea to get things moving.
6. Get some feedback
You don’t have to deal with the murky middle alone! If you’re not sure which action your character should take or where maybe you could share it with a writing buddy or a friend you’ve shared your ideas with before. Or I’ve found the #writingcommunity on Twitter a fantastic place that encourages and supports writers. Perhaps you could send a couple of tweets about it, or join an online writing group on Facebook for some online support.
Hopefully that’s a few different ways you can get out of the murky middle. What about you? Feel free to drop a comment to say what helps keep your novel moving!
Till next time,
PS thanks for stopping by, hope you enjoyed the blog post! You can head here to check out my other blogs or here to check out my books. Why not join my newsletter? You’ll receive a free preview to my most recent novel, Lottie’s Locket, when you subscribe. I also include a free preview of my first historical fiction novel, ‘The Boy from the Snow’, with every edition.
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