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The Muddle in the Middle

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on January 7, 2015

Somewhere in the middle of my current WIP, I froze with hesitation. It seemed as though I could finish the book within the next fifty pages, and I had one hundred pages to go. Where would I find enough material?

I staved off a full-blown panic attack by realizing this same fear struck me with every book. And each time, I made my word count without a problem. So how do I slug through to the end? And what if you get stuck? How can you take the plot in a new direction?

Raise the body count.
This is especially easy in a murder mystery. Just throw in another dead body. Who is dead and why? Who could have done it? How does this deepen the primary mystery? Could two different killers be involved? What if this victim was your prime suspect? Who does that leave?

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Have an important character go missing.
If a character disappears mid-point in your story, that’s going to disrupt everyone’s plans and theories. Is this person in jeopardy, or are they guilty of perpetrating the crime? Did perhaps one bad guy betray another and do him in? Or is this act meant to manipulate a good person into obeying the kidnapper’s demands? How do people feel about this missing person? Was he loved or despised? How far will the hero go to get him back?

Create a new character who shows up unexpectedly.
What is this person’s role in the mystery? How does his appearance change the hero’s theories? Who was keeping this character’s pending arrival a secret? Is it someone who was presumed dead or who has been missing for years? What tipped this person off that it was time to appear? This would be the time for that secret baby to come to light or the past husband no one knew about or a former girlfriend with a grudge. Or it’s someone who’s heard about the case and wants to cash in somehow. Could they be a fraud? How does his arrival affect the other characters?

Cherry

Build on secrets and motives already present.
If you’ve laid the proper groundwork for your story, your characters have enough secrets, motives and hidden depths you can explore as you move the story along. Write down each loose end as you review the high points and make sure you go down each trail until that thread is tied.

You’ll usually find you have enough material if you just keep writing. Snippets of suspicions your characters mention can be plumped out until laid to rest. So give your people enough layers that peeling the onion takes the entire book. Except just when you thought you knew it all, throw in another twist like one of the points above.

What are your tips for getting through the muddled middle?

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12 Responses to “The Muddle in the Middle”

  1. marilynlevinson said

    Nancy—
    All great suggestions, as always.

  2. Ruth Glick said

    Yes, killing someone off is always good. Even better, make it look like they are dead, then bring them back. My best suggestion is–read what you’ve already written and new stuff will occur to you. Rebecca York

  3. Helpful suggestions, Nancy. Any additional murder is appropriate for the middle of a mystery novel. One is never enough! I think it’s really important to have a flexible outline to work from. It helps keep the plot organized.

    • I always have an outline, but in this case, I had already reached the final revelations and had too many pages yet to go. It worked out, like it usually does, thank goodness. When the story is done, I’ll have to rewrite the synopsis.

  4. Muddle in the Middle – great topic title. One tip I like is asking “what’s the worst thing that can happen to your character?” – then let it happen.

  5. Just the post I needed to read! I’m in the middle of my w-i-p and had a moment of panic. Thanks. Now I’m inspired to continue and complete this story.

  6. Festival Support

    Somewhere in the middle of my current WIP, I froze with hesitation. It seemed as though I could finish the book within the next fifty pages, and I had one hundred pages to go. Where would I find enough material? I staved off a full-blown panic attack b…

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