Murky Middles and Sunday ROW80 check-in

Making it through the middle... image from WANA Commons, by David Jace
Making it through the middle…
image from WANA Commons, by David Jace

I’m currently up to my eyeballs in revisions of a novella, and one thing I’m struggling with—one that many of us struggle with, I suspect—is keeping tension throughout the middle of the story. I worry that the middle sags a little, not because I’ve made things too easy for my characters, but because they’re sort of trapped in a stalemate. In other words, there are a few chapters of reaction, thinking, and planning, but not much action. Sort of the calm before the storm.

This might be the hardest problem to fix in this manuscript, but it’s not impossible. I had a wonderfully productive meeting with my critique partners this week, and they made some suggestions that have definite potential: Give one of the characters more agency so she’s not completely trapped in her situation. Flesh out the secondary characters so that they can carry some of the weight. Sprinkle more magic throughout the story. And so on.

We often get so caught up in penning captivating first chapters and breathtaking endings that it’s easy to overlook making those chapters in between shine, but that’s exactly what every chapter needs to do: Capture and hold readers’ attention. Keeping up tension throughout a story can be a difficult part of the process to master.

Do you ever get stuck in the middle? Do your stories ever sag as they approach the midpoint? How do you keep things moving?

ROW80 goals check-in…


  • Finish a second draft of my novella “Good Old-Fashioned Magic.” Revised one chapter. Met with critique partners about three more chapters. Brainstormed a couple new scenes to help increase tension in the Murky Middle of the story.
  • Read a minimum of four books on the business or craft of writing. Continued reading “Conflict and Suspense” by James Scott Bell.

Social media:

  • Check in on Twitter daily. Goal met for Wednesday and Thursday, not for the rest of the week.
  • Blog two times per week. Goal met.
  • Comment on three to five blogs per day, Monday-Thursday. Goal met for Wednesday and Thursday.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. It’s also a blog hop.

What about you? How are your goals coming along? How do you get your characters through the Murky Middles of your stories?

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Fantasy & paranormal romance author. Witch. Tarot reader. Possibly a woodland sprite. Debut release TANGLED ROOTS now available. Magic awaits at

6 thoughts on “Murky Middles and Sunday ROW80 check-in

  1. Middles are always the toughest for me, too. It feels like momentum gets lost in the technicality of aligning plot points with character arcs. I somehow lose the organic process and my sense of direction. Sometimes, when I’ve written myself into a corner I use James Scott Bell’s technique of listing every possible way a scene/situation could end, to ensure I’m not just taking the first idea that comes to mind. But other times I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel just to get one thing on that list!

    1. I think a lot of us struggle with keeping the tension and suspense going in the middle of the manuscript. This story is particularly tough because of the way I’ve set it up. I need to make sure there’s not a complete stalemate in the middle or the story will drag. I’m basically writing a few new scenes and then selecting the best one and running with it. We’ll see how it goes.

  2. My rough draft middles sag, too – but, since beginning to use Rock Your Plot, it’s less so.

    For me, it seems to be less about the technical aspects, and more about the things I’m learning about the characters and their realities at that point. I tend to write very long first drafts, but in that sagginess are hints that often become subplots later on.

    I’ve just come to accept it and move on. I always know more about the story after it’s finished, and that helps me with the revision. It has helped a lot to look at each scene almost as though it’s its own little story.

    1. My current WIP is a novella, so the writing has to be pretty tight but still have lots of conflict. I’m learning that writing shorter works comes with its own challenges. There’s not a lot of excess to be trimmed, and every word has to count. I think saggy middles are common with first drafts. It’s just part of the process. That’s where revision comes in. 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by!

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