Updated: Apr 16, 2019
Last weekend at the Suffolk Mystery Authors Festival, I spoke with several writers who have gotten stuck in the middle of their books. They’ve got their plot points and character sheets. They start strong–love their hook, establish their characters and story, and then…nothing. Something feels off, but they can’t really tell what it is—so how can they fix it?
Never fear. Your friendly neighborhood editor is here–with a Soggy Middle Troubleshooting Guide
First, look at your process.
1. Take a step back
Get away for a few minutes. Think about something else. Meditate. Take a shower. Go for a walk.
2. Use prompts
Try using prompts to get your creative juices flowing again. Here’s a great list to get you started.
3. Read the parts you like
Reread your favorite parts that you’ve already written. This can help you shift your mindset from “all I write is crap” to falling back in love with your story.
4. Skip it and move on
There’s no law that says you have to write your story in order. An author on the panel at the festival said she gets unstuck by writing the next scene she’s excited about and then figures out later how she’s going to get them there.
Are your characters doing enough? Specifically, is your main character being proactive?
One common reason writers get stuck in the middle is because their characters are kind of wandering around waiting for something to happen or while something happens to them. One of the authors on the panel at the festival said when this happens to her, she puts the character into a situation they would never normally be in and watches to see what happens.
Is your main plot big enough to fill out a whole 80,000 words?
Your book may need more conflict. A story arc isn’t just a straight line from beginning to end. If the main character has a problem, investigates it, and then resolves it, the plot may be too small. Try adding some little battles, plot twists, reversals, wrong turns, impossible choices, and unintended consequences. It’s the unexpected that makes a story sing.
3. Emotion and reaction
Are your characters reacting enough to what’s happening around them?
Often when a writer feels blah about the middle of their book, it’s because the characters aren’t reacting emotionally to the events of the plot. They take physical action, but they don’t have a strong enough emotional response. Find ways to add more reaction. The best ways to show emotion are through dialogue and body language.
4. Still feeling stuck? Get feedback
Don’t waste all your writing time trying to figure it out. Ask a critique partner or writing buddy what feels off. More often than not, they can pinpoint it quickly, and you can get back to writing.
So, how do you get unstuck when you get bogged down in the middle of your book? Leave a comment or tweet me @jenichappelle.