Smack Dab Trail Markers #8 – #14

The Smack Dab ends Tuesday, February 21, 2017.

IMAGE: The Smack Dab logo.

The Smack Dab – a challenge within a challenge

14 days. 14 chapters. 14 writing tips.

For 14 days in February (seven days before Valentine’s Day and seven days after), writers on “The Smack Dab” will run faster and write harder, striving to write at least one chapter per day, for 14 days.

During The Smack Dab, the focus is daily chapter writing – writing a chapter a day versus simply adding word count.

Ask yourself:

Are you pushing yourself to write? Writing a chapter a day from start to finish despite life’s many distractions? Where are you in your manuscript? Are you “smack dab in the middle”? During The Smack Dab, watch for daily Trail Markers, which serve as writing tips to help you write through the middle of your novel.

Writing Tips Posted Every Day on The Smack Dab

Valentine’s Day was the halfway mark in the 90-Day Write cycle on the 85K Writing Challenge. We’re officially smack dab in the middle of our quest to write 85,000 words in 90 days. Our focus for the coming week is the second half of The Smack Dab.

See this?

IMAGE: The Smack Dab trail marker sign - a metal sign, red with a white heart symbol, by a trail in New Mexico.

That’s a trail marker. Trail markers are tips.

Read Trail Markers #1 – #7 – posted last week.

Smack Dab Trail Markers are tips, suggestions, and ideas meant to help writers on their journey through the middle of their novel. They are not meant to be implemented in any particular order, nor are they meant to be implemented at all if they don’t pertain to your particular story. Use what is helpful, disregard the rest.

IMAGE: The Smack Dab trail marker sign - a metal sign, red with a white heart symbol, by a trail in New Mexico.

Day 14 – Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Smack Dab Trail Marker #14: Finish with a ta-dah!

Ta-dah! It’s the final day of The Smack Dab. Here’s your final tip for writing smack dab through the middle of your novel: Finish with a ta-dah. Finish in a way that makes you feel like saying, “Ta-dah! Middle section. Done. Written. And boy, was that awesome!” One way to achieve the “ta-dah” finish is to ensure you’ve given your protagonist a proper tossing – off a cliff. A really, really, tall cliff.

Many writers finish the middle section of their novels with a lackluster event. Often, the reader doesn’t even sense they’ve moved from the end of Act 2 into the beginning of Act 3. Finish your middle by thoroughly devasting the main character, giving the reader no choice but to read forward to find out what happens. Make that finish to your middle strong. Make it gory, sad, surprising, infuriating – whatever it is – make sure it makes an impact. Make sure it’s a ta-dah finish.

 

IMAGE: The Smack Dab trail marker sign - a metal sign, red with a white heart symbol, by a trail in New Mexico.

Day 13 – Monday, February 20, 2017
Smack Dab Trail Marker #13: Make a “things to fix” list.

The middle of a novel tends to be the place where broken plots, partially-formed character arcs, weak cause-and-effect, underdeveloped tension, lack of suspense, and other not-quite-working story elements tend to rear their ugly heads. While writing smack dab through the middle of your novel, make a “things to fix” list as you write your discovery draft. The middle of a story is often the place where writers “sense” there’s something difficult to write and “feel” that something’s lagging or not working. Insights gained when writing through the middle can go a long way toward informing what needs to be fixed when it comes time to edit the discovery draft. Write forward, get through it, take careful notes.

IMAGE: The Smack Dab trail marker sign - a metal sign, red with a white heart symbol, by a trail in New Mexico.

Day 12 – Sunday, February 19, 2017
Smack Dab Trail Marker #12: Add dirt.

So often, when writers are writing smack dab in the middle of their novel, it can feel muddy and thick; hard to navigate; like there are so many storylines, loose ends, and scenes to write to get through it all. But what if the novel you’re writing doesn’t feel muddy? Isn’t the “muddy middle” writers so often talk about. What if the middle of your novel feels thin and transparent; hardly there; clear like water, not dense and rich like mud?

The answer? Add dirt.

Add nutrients to the soil. If your nouns are vague and nondescript, add specifics. If your verbs are weak and uninspiring, add umphf. If your setting lacks reality, add brushstrokes. If your plot is starting dwindle, add an accelerant; some fuel; some gasoline.

IMAGE: The Smack Dab trail marker sign - a metal sign, red with a white heart symbol, by a trail in New Mexico.

Day 11 – Saturday, February 18, 2017
Smack Dab Trail Marker #11: Reversals

One way to write smack dab through the middle of your novel while keeping the story fresh is to create a reversal. Reverse course. Reverse a decision. Reverse an action. Take something, some story element, cause of action, plot line, character, something, and build a plausible reason for it to reverse completely and take the story in a new, and unexpected direction. Reversals may not work for all novels, but if it’s a fit for your story, it can add freshness, excitement, and new possibilities.

IMAGE: The Smack Dab trail marker sign - a metal sign, red with a white heart symbol, by a trail in New Mexico.

Day 10 – Friday, February 17, 2017
Smack Dab Trail Marker #10: Introduce a new character.

One method for writing through the middle of your novel while holding your reader’s attention is to introduce a new character.

Here’s some tips:

Make Them Unique. And Make Them Matter.
Don’t introduce a new character simply to add more actors to the stage. You don’t want this character to be “just” another coworker, or neighbor, or friend, etc. You want this new character to be a truly interesting and unique character that will genuinely matter to the storyline and isn’t simply there as a distraction.

Do They Also Have a Character Arc?
You may wish to introduce a character with a fully developed character arc that plays out during the middle portion of your novel.

Integral to the Storyline
Consider having the new character’s sub-storyline run counter to the main theme of the novel. And if not counter to the storyline, at the very least, the subplot needs to be integral to the storyline.

Now That They’re Here, When Do They Leave?

You may decide to introduce the new character at the beginning of your middle, and then have them exit the story at the end of your middle. If you choose this option, this new character exists only within the center of your novel, adding intrigue.

IMAGE: The Smack Dab trail marker sign - a metal sign, red with a white heart symbol, by a trail in New Mexico.

Day 9 – Thursday, February 16, 2017
Smack Dab Trail Marker #9: Write a 3-Act Middle.

Structure the middle of your novel the way you’d structure the entire novel – with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Now, we recognize that every novel is different and not all writers will write to a tight guideline of “acts” along a three-act structure. But bare with us for a moment for this example, and let it serve as a loose overview of what this Trail Marker Tip is trying to suggest: that one way of looking at the smack dab middle of your novel is to look at its structure and ask yourself – is there a sense of a beginning, middle, and end – to my middle?

Okay. Say, for example, you’ve divided your entire novel along the three-act structure. You’d exit Act 1 at around the 25% mark, and enter Act 3 at around the 75% mark. That would leave marks 25% through 75% for your middle. Therefore, your middle is using up about 50% of the novel’s structure.

(We know most novels are not this rigid.)

If you were to apply a beginning, middle, and an end to that 50% middle, then mathematically (don’t freak out, we know writing isn’t this precise), your middle’s “beginning, middle, and end” would take place at these locations throughout the length of your entire novel:

ENTIRE NOVEL
1-25% = Act One “The Beginning”
25- 75% = Act Two “The Middle”
75 – 100% = Act Three “The End”

MIDDLE OF THE NOVEL

The 50% of your middle divided by 3 (beginning, middle, end) = three sections of about 16.6% of your novel’s length. (And because our example has .6 in it – the below numbers will be slightly off.)

So, applying this to the length of your entire novel, these sections will embody the “beginning, middle, and end” of your middle:

25-42% = the beginning of the middle (17% of the novel’s total length)
40-58% = the middle of the middle (18% of the novel’s total length)
58-75% = the end of the middle (17% of the novel’s total length)

Does your middle have a beginning, middle, and end? Why or why not? There are no “right” or “wrong” answers. This Trail Marker Tip is meant to make you think structurally about your middle. It is not intended to imply you need to calculate or dissect your story in this manner.

On the blog: How do you write? Does your middle have a beginning, middle, and an end? #85K90 Click To Tweet

IMAGE: The Smack Dab trail marker sign - a metal sign, red with a white heart symbol, by a trail in New Mexico.

Day 8 – Wednesday, February 15, 2017
Smack Dab Trail Marker #8: Tame unruly subplots.

The middle of the novel is often the place where unruly subplots spread like weeds, choking the focus of the main plot. To keep the focus of your novel tight, write through the middle of your novel with a weed wacker in hand, thinning subplots until they’re the size and shape they should be.

Watch for rabbit holes and “chatty” characters who misbehave and derail the plot. As you write, exercise control over your words and keep wandering subplots to a minimum or risk heavy editing later. Subplots that water down the impact of your main plot can often become disorderly and disruptive during the middle of a story. When writing smack dab in the middle of your novel, write with discipline and control.

Write with discipline and control. Tame unruly subplots. Trail Marker Tip #8 #85K90 Click To Tweet
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Julie Valerie

Julie Valerie

85K Writing Challenge: Embracing the writing life by advancing the practice of productive writing from first word to first reader.

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