Power Abs: Fixing the Sagging Middle of Your Novel
This is part of a series, 30 Days to A Stronger Novel
One of the hardest things about plot is to keep the middle from sagging. The opening is full of action, and the ending brings all the plot elements together into a big scene. But that middle! What to do about it?
Peter Dunne proposes an unusual paradigm for the middle of a story in his book, Emotional Structure: Creating the Story Beneath the Plot. Written for screenwriters, the principles still hold for novelists. Dunne says that the beginning and ending are about plot, or the outer problem. The middle is about what he calls “story” but most of us would call the inner problem. Beginning and ending–action. Middle–character.
That’s an interesting premise. When you’re plotting, it means that you need to think of the character’s inner arc, their growth arc, what makes them change, how do they change. Write out six or more steps of that growth and specifically, what provokes each step. Then, go back to the outer problem, the plot, and slot in events to match the inner arc. The last step on the inner arc forces the character to make a decision which sends him/her into the last climactic scenes of the plot.
I’m playing with this premise in my current WIP revision project, so I can’t say that it works yet. But already, I ‘m seeing some promise in the approach because it is focusing my plot in unexpected and exciting ways. I think an attitude of openness to new approaches is essential, because each project seems to need a slightly different solution.
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