Lin Anderson called this the muddle in the middle. Most writers will tell you it’s the hardest part to write. In my own experience that’s because the initial euphoria of the great idea has worn off. It’s hard work and the ending feels a long way away. You may not be quite sure how you’re even going to get there. Or perhaps you realise at this point that your 80,000 word novel is only going to be 30,000 words. What do you do to get to the end?
The middle of your novel must build to the climax. Your protagonist faces challenges in reaching their goal. The challenges should increase in difficulty. You’re basically throwing mud at your main character, a bigger bit with each throw. Show them struggling. You don’t root for someone to whom everything comes easily because that’s just not what life is like. Your protagonist needs to fight. All this builds to the climax, their hardest challenge of all. Your character must face this themselves! No acts of God- your villain should not be struck by lightning, a falling piano, leprosy etc. just as they are about to defeat your hero.
How about secondary characters? It’s tempting to pad your story out with lots of these, especially if your having trouble with length. And usually a story has an A story and a B story, the latter involving secondary characters. Major moments happen when the A story and the B story collide. So yes, put in those secondary characters with their own story. Just make sure they impact on the story of your protagonist (Think Jane Bennet and Mr Bingley.) And be careful not to use too many viewpoints. That’s confusing.
I hope that helps with the muddle in the middle! The last post in this series will of course be about effective endings. We’ll discuss the resolution, pay offs, and how to keep people coming back for more if you’re writing a series. Also, Lin Anderson’s handy checklist!