One of the things I’ve noticed as a writer is the phenomenon known as the what-the-hell-is-supposed-to-happen-next syndrome, otherwise known as the missing, or the over-congested, or the oh-so-boring middle. I’ve only written 10 books, but I’ve read at least a couple thousand over the last five years, and what I’ve discovered is that I’m not alone in dealing with this. In a 90,000 word book, this issue gradually begins to seep in around 35k to 40k in my word count. If I’m reading when this happens, I usually skip to the last three chapters of the book, read them quickly, and call it good. And although I sometimes wish I could do that as an author, merely write the beginning and the ending of my now 50k word book, it doesn’t exactly work that way. Oh, what to do!
In the past I would merely add a character, or produce an intriguing subplot, or have somebody suddenly get hit in the head by an errant Frisbee, but all that did was complicate the story, forcing the reader to sail off into an unwarranted cul-de-sac or sea of confusion. And once I did that, writing the ending seemed pointless.
Now I realize that the only real cure for this syndrome is to strengthen the conflict within, between, and surrounding the protagonist and antagonist of the story. Without conflict there truly is no arc or shape to the story. And whether it’s a romance, a mystery, or a book of literary fiction, an over-arching shape is necessary to avoid a non-descript middle.
Another device I use has to do with plot structure. Merely asking myself the question: what’s the worst thing that could happen? opens up my imagination, causing it to soar. In my first SMP novel, Love’s Harvest, the hero and heroine are working against all odds to restore the family’s run-down winery to its former glory—a deathbed promise the heroine made to her dying husband. In contrast, the woman’s brother-in-law sees the winery as nothing more than a money drain and instead wants to convert the property into high-end luxury condos. I sustained this tug-of-war for about as long as I could, and when I at last asked the above question, the only answer I could come up with was to burn it all down. My characters were now forced to either rise to the occasion or be destroyed by it.
You’ll have to read the novel to find out what happens. But I’ll tell you this much . . . no more midriff bulge or sagging middle!
Born and raised near the Puget Sound in Washington State, Gwen Overland and her family now live in Ashland, Oregon, home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Prior to that Gwen lived in Los Angeles and had careers in directing, acting, and singing while performing at the piano. After years in academia, writing one research article followed by another, Gwen turned her talents toward writing fiction and found she happily could not stop. Love’s Harvest and Free My Heart, two novels from her Salmon Run Series, have been published by Soul Mate; she is currently working on the third Salmon Run novel, Waiting for You. Her self-published, romantic comedy/mystery series, The Millicent Winthrop Novels, is available in both English and German. In addition, Gwen also has two published non-fiction books on the work she does in conjunction with her business, Expressive Voice Dynamics: Soul of Voice and Soul of My Voice. When she’s not reading, writing, or playing with her two black pugs, Buster Keaton and Emmett Kelly, Gwen works in the theatre, or assists psychotherapy clients in discovering more joy and meaning in their lives.