1.16.2018

Pegging the Mid-Book Slump: Casting Ahead

The last post covered one means of addressing a sagging middle of the novel: returning to the opening section and charting the best plot advances there as a way to continue progress on those strengths. The other way is to look forward. You know what happens in the climax sequence. You can set up the scenes in the middle as ways to make the climax pay off even more than it does now.

As with the opening 150 pages, draw up a chart that provides a quick synopsis of each scene in the climax. A good climax runs anywhere from 50 to 100 pages. Pay special attention to what happens to each of your major characters—do you have a handful? That will tell you which elements need to be bolstered the most.

Now return to the halfway point and summarize the scenes between that and the climax sequence. Check the list you’ve just created with the list for the climax. Are events moving forward with the same urgency? If not, you should be doing two things. First, use where the book ends up as a guide for cutting excess scenes in the middle. For example, if the hero meets a fascinating curandero in a canyon prior to making the dash with his family over the U.S. border, you have to ask yourself: is it worth spending 20 pages on Mexican shaman lore?

Better yet, go back and forth between the middle and ending sequences, and think through how to connect the scenes. Using the same example, you might use the idea of family as a plot element. What would happen if the hero’s older brother was killed just before the climax sequence started? That would inflame the reader’s resentment of the cruel border agents at the very point they will try to do their worst to the family.

Another point to look for is a character who ends up playing a dramatic role in the climax. Has she been important the entire book, or does she come out of nowhere to carry a dramatic burden? If the latter, you can insert scenes into the sagging middle that show how dynamic she is—i.e., worthy of carrying such a burden.

Exercise: You can further refine the linkage between the two sections. Concentrate on only one character per list. Pick out the ones that really matter in the climax and work backward. Are they maintaining a constant presence during this penultimate period, or do they drop out of the book for a while? On the converse side, are you spending a lot of time with a character in the sagging middle who ends up playing a minor role in the end? You will know because you have the evidence right at your fingertips.

“Slump? I ain't in no slump... I just ain't hitting.”
—Yogi Berra

Copyright @ 2108, John Paine

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