Posted by: Debrah Martin | October 12, 2013

Bulging Midriffs

No, not another dieting attempt, a critical look at the centre piece of the novel – the middle!  Having worked hard at the sprint start and diligently on the startling finish the main part of the race – the stunning core remains to be crafted. What do you do to maintain the impetus of the beginning and the gasping breath from the finish? Maybe the first paragraph of all is the hardest to write, but the middle ones are often the longest, driest, most stumbling and stuck. In fact I often find I start with a burst, finish with a bounce and get completely bogged down in between. Here’s what I concentrate on to dig myself out of the mire in the middle.

Pace and plot, that’s what.



Pace is all about timing (obviously), and building the plot to a crescendo, but getting the time right when doing so is crucial. Unfold it too slowly and you risk losing readers along the way, allow the denouement to materialise – ta-dah style – too quickly and it feels like someone just burst a woopie cushion – and the inside was wet… Suspense, tension, character development, highs and lows and a few red herrings are all necessary to keep the pace braced. It’s a little like sinus rhythm:

sinus rhythm

…and hopefully that’s nothing like mine in reality! Don’t make it steady or the story plods – make it erratic and surprise your readers. Two or three occasions of semi-climax work to build your readers anticipatory excitement best (and I’m not talking dirty either).





Of course the problem with erratic is that it can come across as a series of hiccups making your reader wonder if you’ve lost the plot too. Some hiccups I’ve encountered are:


  • Too much flashback – slows the story and pace down too much by taking your reader backwards, not forwards.
  • Short time spans speed up a story, longer ones extend it.  Don’t speed through 10 years in a 1000 word piece, but by the same token stretching a few hours over a whole novel can probably only be successfully crafted  by the most skilful of writers.
  • If the plot becomes too complex it will become confusing and your reader may well just close the book and leave you to sort it all out without reading to the end.
  • Use the middle of the book to allow the characters to develop into rounded people – a useful place to allow the bulging midriff to really bulge for once!
  • Layer it – having cross-plot interaction/ layers of the plot or story development increases depth and complexity and improves the quality of the middle.
  • Don’t get bogged down – and if you do, try a corset …


Clever corsets to get your middle squeezing out either end:bulging tum

When I get stuck I try to take a step back and revisit the plot and people again to clarify where they’re going and why. I have a number of little corset fixits, such as:

What if? Take the characters and plot and try some other possibilities such as, for example in a murder mystery –

?         What if Tim murders Kay …

?         What if Kay disappears, but everyone thinks Kay has been murdered  …

?         What if Tim accuses someone else …

?         What if someone blackmails Tim …

Try a stream of consciousness:  take your theme and pick out obstacles, issues and potential turning points:

theme for middles

Or create a more visual effect by using the spider diagram format, which is more flexible as you can spin off subsidiary ideas from the main ones, and keep going until you find a series of ideas or issues that you feel could be developed together:


spider diagram

I also like to make sure I have a structure to work on to stop the middle ending up in the doldrums. It goes something like this:


table for midriffs


Somewhere in the gamut of lucky white rabbits you’ve pulled out of your magician’s hat will be the string to pull the corset tight, and hey presto! You have a trim, slim and sleek middle …


Of course – if like me, you’ve just eaten treacle pud and ice cream too, then the writers corset may still not be enough, of course …

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