Friday, March 18, 2016

How to Avoid Middle Slumps--Maintaining Tension in Your Story

Tonight I'm chatting with one of my online classes.  Our topic is slumped middles--not in our bodies, but our books.  Many books slide down the tension scale in the middle, as the initial action subsides and the finish line is still far in the distance.

Keeping the middle active and interesting is not easy.  On our chat, we're talking about a few proven techniques for brightening up the middle of your story.

Becky, who reads this blog, sent a great question about slumped middles.  She called this the part where "your character rallies and makes some kind of decision after hitting a low point, and things get a little better."  Yes, that's true, I told her.  The character (or narrator in memoir) will usually fall for a while after the story starts.  Things often get worse.  The character hits a low point and there's a kind of leveling out.  Some writers call this the "first turning point" of the story. 

This is where things can get a little dicey, in terms of tension.  As the character is "recovering from the problem" that the book started with, it can easily get slow.  As Becky says, "How do you keep the tension and suspense in that section when the trajectory is supposed to be bit more positive?"

Here's the short list from my online chat tonight (thank you, writers!):

1.  Create a twist at the end, and work it backwards, planting clues that change and enliven the middle.  Such as . . . an enemy turns out to be a friend or vice versa. 

2.  Introduce a new character or a mentor.

3.  Create dramatic action--this was a big one!--and place where slumps usually occur.  If you can't think of actions to try, make a list of 10 dramatic events and try out one of them in a freewrite.

4.  Change locations!  (Think Eat, Pray, Love)

5.  And my favorite . . . stay away from interior monologue (thoughts, feelings, memories) and get people moving onstage.

Your Weekly Writing Exercise
Take a middle chapter and try one of the ideas above.  See if it makes your middle less slumped and more on edge.

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