Via Chuck Wendig at TerribleMinds.com
Here are the first 10 ways (out of 25) to fight your story’s mushy middle. These will help you craft your narrative in a way that enhances your story!
1. THE SOLOMONIC SPLIT OF THE SECOND ACT
Fuck the three-act structure right in its crusty corn-cave. See, right there’s your problem — first act is small, third act is small, and the second act is the size of those two combined. Go for a four-act structure, instead. Take the second act and chop it clean in half. Whack. Each act is its own entity — though it connects to the rest and still has its own rise and fall. Allow each its own shape, its own distinct feel. And don’t forget that when one act moves to another it is a time of transformation and escalation.
2. FAKE A CLIMAX
Hey, when you fake an orgasm, you gotta commit. You can’t just do a few eye-rolls and go “oooh, ahh, mmm, yes,” and then sit up and flip on CSPAN. You’ve got to sell it. Make ‘em think it’s the real deal. Scream so loud the dog starts howling. Break a lamp with a flailing limb. Release the fluids. And that’s what you gotta do in the middle of your story. The “false climax” is a powerful trick — you make it seem like things are coming to a head, that the pot is boiling over, that the fluid-release cannot be contained. You want the audience to be all like, “Whoa, this feels like the end but I’ve still got 200 pages left in the book. SHIT JUST GOT REAL.” (Of course, do make sure the actual climax is even bigger, yes?)
3. FEWER CURVES, MORE ANGLES
The shape of a story — especially the shape of a story’s middle — is a lot of soft rises and doughy plateaus and zoftig falls. Each hill giving way to a bigger knoll. But sometimes, a story needs fewer hills and more mountains. Angles instead of curves. Fangs instead of molars. Think of inserting a few jagged peaks and dangerous ditches — take the story and the characters on a harder journey. Let things change swiftly, accelerate the plot, go left, feint right, don’t let the audience feel complacent and comfortable. Rough ground can be a good thing in the middle of a story. Some stories need more turbulence.
4. OPENING PRESENTS ON CHRISTMAS EVE
When I was a kid, Christmas Eve was the most interminable time because, y’know, Christmas morning is everything. All else is chaff and dust and ash in your greedy little mouth. If setting fire to the tree would make Santa come earlier, shit, you’d do it. So, what do some parents do? They let a child open one gift on Christmas Eve. Adopt this strategy as a storyteller. All this time you’re introducing mysteries and conflicts and character arcs that you promise will be resolved by the conclusion of the story. Take one, conclude it early. Give the audience some payoff. (I’d argue if Lost gave viewers a few early Christmas presents the show wouldn’t have dragged its itchy doggy ass across the carpet for the middle seasons.)
5. INTRODUCE A CHARACTER
Sometimes, a story needs a bit of new blood in the form of a new character — someone interesting. Not, y’know, “Dave the Constipated Cab Driver,” or “Paula the Saggy-Boobed Waitress,” but rather characters with an arc, characters who will have an impact on the story. You don’t need to replace your protagonist (and probably shouldn’t), but a new strong supporting character may grant the story new energy.
6. INTRODUCE A CHARACTER. . . TO THE GRIM REAPER, MOO HOO HA HA!
Sometimes, a story just needs blood. Kill a character. Off the poor bastard. Axe, bullet, disease, chasm, death-by-irritable-wombat, whatever. Blood makes the grass grow. Bread and circuses, motherfucker.
7. RELATIONSHIP STATUS: “IT’S COMPLICATED”
The middle can feel like a vernal pool that fails to dry up, turning it into naught but a mosquito breeding ground (aka “skeeter fuck party”). That’s because there’s no movement of the water; stagnation sets in. One way to “move the water” (note: not a reference to urinating) is to change the relationship between characters. Get them together. Break them apart. Lies! Betrayals! Exposed secrets! New hate! Old love! Unexpected butt-play! Drama and conflict born of that relationship shift can fuel the rest of the story.
8. KARATE KICKS AND CAR CHASES CHOP VROOM BOOM
Find approximate middle of book. Plant there a kick-ass action sequence. One that is perfectly married to plot, story, and characters. An action scene with ninjas and centaurs and ninja centaurs and Ducati motorcycles and fucking velociraptors and velociraptors fucking and a gladiator named DOCTOR MEAT. Okay, maybe not so much with all of that. Point is, throw in some action in the middle. If not action, anything that creates tension, putting the character’s mission (or life or love or soul or sanity) in doubt.
9. ACTION! CUT! NO, WAIT! CUT THE ACTION!
Sometimes, action doesn’t need to be added — it needs to get cut. Quite paradoxically, action can be very boring. Sometimes it’s meaningless — an exercise for the sake of having it. Sometimes it fails to connect to the larger plot. Or have ties to the characters (or feature them at all). Or have any consequence in any way. Action in this mode will drag the story like a colostomy bag filled with buckshot. Cut it. Kill it. Move on.
10. MAP QUEST
You’re in the middle of the story. You’re wandering around in circles like you’re drunk and got a bad limp. It’s weedy. Swampy. You’re lost. You have to pee. You need a map. You need trail markers and a compass and a magic GPS robot who follows after and is all like BEEP BOOP TAKE A RIGHT AT THE STUMP AND BEWARE LUSTY MOOSE. It’s time for an outline. It’s time for a plan. Pull away from the daily writing. Sit down and start drawing your map — scene by scene, chapter by chapter, however you have to do it. Find your next steps. Discover your narrative landmarks. That’ll get you out of the woods and back onto the road.
Source: Chuck Wendig. “25 WAYS TO FIGHT YOUR STORY’S MUSHY MIDDLE.” http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2012/06/05/25-ways-to-fight-your-storys-mushy-middle/