My Novel Has Love Handles: Dealing With The Mushy Middle

I seem to write about problems with writing as they’re occurring. Right now, I’m struggling to fix a section of one of my novels. The section begins right after the middle plot point, or the point that forces the characters into action, which eventually leads to the climax. Here’s the problem: the middle plot point of a story is usually dramatic. A shooting. A kidnapping. A betrayal.

I’m using the term “middle plot point” loosely here. In my work, it’s usually pretty darn close to the literal middle of the book. If that’s not how your work shakes out, consider the section that directly follows a dramatic scene.

love handlesThis section can’t possibly be as dramatic. It’s automatically set up for a let down. This is the mushy middle.

Sure, the characters are forced into action. But there’s also a period of emotional reaction.

Okay, that just happened. Can’t I just sit back and cry? 

There’s also planning.

Oh, I can’t sit back and cry, because if I stay here too long, that werewolf will eat my face. Guess I’ll go buy a bus ticket.

This reaction and planning are the nature of the Mushy Middle Beast.

I’ve learned to avoid these pitfalls in the MMB:

1. Stalling.

Characters shouldn’t talk incessantly about what just happened or go to places that don’t matter. If they must talk, move the story forward as they do it. Don’t have them go home when they should be catching a flight.

2. Avoiding conflict.

This might just be something I do, but my natural instinct after the drama of the middle plot point is to pull back. Let everyone get along for a little bit. Decompress.

This is a bad idea because it leads to boring writing, which is more pronounced because of its position after the middle plot point.

So instead of avoiding conflict, change it up. Root it in the emotional reaction following the middle plot point. Character A wants to do this. Character B disagrees. Everyone’s on edge. Can you feel it?

After typing all this out, I think I have a solid idea for how to fix my mushy middle problem. Thanks, self!

Question time: is the mushy middle a problem for you? How do you handle it? 

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