Write Your Novel In A Year – Week 6: Overcoming Your Fear of the Middle
Welcome to week 6 of Anthony Ehlers’s series that aims to help you write a novel in a year. Read last week’s post here.
- Expand the middle of your synopsis
- Identify and develop your subplots
- ‘Design’ the interiors of your settings
Breaking it down
When the curtain comes down on Intermission…
Last week, we spoke about the set-up or beginning of your novel. This week we’re going to expand the middle section of the working synopsis. We’re going to focus on opening up the story until we reach middle or midpoint.
As we move into middle section, things have changed for your characters. Especially your main character. Sometimes this part of the story is called the ‘new world’ or the ‘extraordinary world’. Often there is a change in setting but it doesn’t have to be so dramatic. The ‘world’ can be the same, but the character feels different about, well, everything. Probably very different.
In my novel, Jenna, my heroine, drives out to her family’s isolated beach house for some soul-searching: to unravel her emotions and deal with the complications and confusion in her relationship. It’s a good place to slow down the story …
… Because from here on out, the decisions she makes, the actions the antagonist takes, the influences of other characters — all of these escalate the action and will take me to the middle of the novel.
I’ll be honest. The middle is easiest place for me to get lost in a story. It seems a vast ocean to cross until you get to the end. It’s daunting. The best way to see the stretch from the end of the beginning to the midpoint is to view it as a story on its own. This makes it more manageable.
The midpoint of your novel is a ‘mini-climax’. It must reach a culmination. After the climax, it’s the biggest moment in your story. If you’re ever been to a play, you know that the scene just before the curtain comes down on intermission is always a memorable one. It doesn’t have to be a cliff-hanger. Just dramatic, lively, and satisfying enough to reward the audience’s investment in the story so far. Do you want people dashing off to a late supper? No, you want them to come back and see how it all ends. And the same concept applies your book.
Subplot to the rescue
There’s one thing that takes a lot of the fear out of planning the middle of your book … the subplot.
After the beginning of your novel, this is precisely the point where you start bringing in secondary storylines and characters. These can be hinted at in the set-up but here is where you can start exploring them more fully. Why? Well, in the beginning readers want to know one thing: What is this story going to be about? Once they know that, they’ll be more comfortable with other smaller storylines.
In his historical crime novel, Budapest Noir, Vilmos Kondor immediately engages us in the main storyline. A newspaper reporter wants to find found out why a prostitute has been killed in pre-World War 2 Hungary. Once this has been established as his goal, Kondor brings in other aspects of the reporter’s life — his tenuous relationship with his girlfriend and his deep affection for his grandfather. These subplots balance out the ‘noirish’ elements of the novel.
In my novel, I was excited to find I could tease out Jenna’s career as a photographer. Not only was I going to throw conflict into her relationship, I was going to do the same in her career. A major subplot is her commission to shoot the portrait of a jazz icon — an assignment that can make or break her career. What would be a subplot in your novel?
Interior and inner worlds
If you have time this week, you could also play the role of interior designer. Create some notes on your character’s home — the social living spaces, the intimate spaces of their bedroom and bathroom, or even their work spaces. What is their most prized object? Are they neat freaks or messy? What is their favourite colour? If you’re a halfway decent artist, you could even sketch these.
In First Sight, Danielle Steel wrote some lovely descriptions of her heroine Timmie O’Neill’s beach house. I remembered these and thought I’d like to also create vivid, memorable pictures for Jenna and Matt’s apartment and beach house. For example, I know Jenna has a drawer in her studio where this yoga-loving wheat-grass-drinking vegan keeps a secret pack of cigarettes.
Often our homes reflect our personalities and give little glimpses into our lives. It is more so for fictional characters. Even if their houses are meant to be perfect façades they show the world, there will always be something that betrays their inner selves.
Timelock — four to six hours
- 2-3 hours on your synopsis the first-half of the middle of your novel
- 1-2 hours to develop subplot/s for your story
- 1 hour for creating the interiors of your settings
5 Quick Hacks
- Try to isolate the midpoints in the last three novels you’ve read.
- Throw a party right in the middle of your book – or a wedding, a funeral, or a gallery opening. These ‘set pieces’ can give you something to write towards.
- Think about all the things that interrupt your daily life – paying bills, writing blogs, taking the dog for a walk. Can you use these for your characters?
- Draw the floor plan of your main character’s house or clip pictures from a lifestyle or décor magazine.
- Describe the childhood room of your antagonist.
Pin it, quote it, believe it:
‘Subplots bring realism to your main plot simply by existing – by interrupting the flow. Readers don’t expect continuous narratives.’ – Elizabeth Sims