Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Curing Writer's Block: Unsagging the Middle of the Novel

Have you ever put a book down in the middle and never picked it up again?  Books are often begun with a burst of great enthusiasm, but by the time the middle is reached, the excitement may have worn thin for both writer and reader. 

The middle of the book is the longest section and often the most challenging part of a novel to write.  What was once new and exciting runs the risk of becoming redundant and ho-hum boring.  The writer must think of ways to keep the book entertaining to hold the reader’s interest to the end.
Below are some tips for keeping the middle from sagging. 

 Keep it Exciting by Upping the Ante

The middle is the place to up the ante.  If the protagonist is at risk, make him more so.   If he or she is in danger, make the main character sweat even more.  For example, if your hero is a professional gambler and has risked his own money in the first chapter, in the middle get him into even more hot water by risking money from the boss’s safe or his wife’s private account.  Now, if he loses again, he’s really got a problem. 

Add a Totally New Event

Spice the middle up with an entirely new event.  If you are writing a mystery, add a new murder. If another murder does not fit the storyline, then add a threat or warning.  A sinister phone call, a death note, or the taking of a hostage can heighten the suspense and keep the reader interested.

Add an Unexpected Twist

A twist or surprise in the middle can also be a pleasant diversion.  Perhaps the hero has figured out that the source of all of his problems is the next-door neighbor.  He goes to confront him, only to find the neighbor lying in a pool of blood.  Everything he has thought up to now has been wrong.  The hero must now re-think his angle and start from square one.  (plus, he must also now find out who murdered the neighbor.)    

Further the Subplot

The middle is also the place to develop and deepen the subplot.  Create interest in the romantic subplot by making the hero and heroine temporarily separated for some reason.  Maybe the hero gets into an argument with his girlfriend or has a misunderstanding that is difficult to clear up.  Keeping them estranged for a few chapters can liven up the middle of the book and generate reader interest.

Writing the middle can be a challenge.  But don't give up now! Creating new problems and events for the protagonist to face and overcome can help make the middle as entertaining as the rest of the book.

Quick Tips to Unsag the Middle

*up the ante
*add a totally new event
*add an uexpected twist
*further the subplot

For more writing tips click: 

Check back for more tips on writing the ending!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Writing the First Chapter: How to Plan a Strong First Chapter

Developing a strong first chapter is often a matter of trial and error.  The first chapter is usually the one that is rewritten the most.  Here are some tips to help you get it right the first time

The first chapter is the most important chapter in the book because it is the first example of your writing the readers will see. It must have the power to draw them in and interest them in the rest of the book. The first chapter also determines the voice, tone, and atmosphere of the story.

Start with Conflict or a Point of Interest

While the first chapter doesn’t have to start with soap-opera drama, it must have enough action to interest the reader.  Many writers choose to begin their story at a point of conflict such as at a place where the hero is in immediate danger.  For example, the logical place to begin a mystery would be with the discovery of the body, not the detective commuting to work or reading the morning newspaper.

Providing Background Information

Many instructors habitually advise their students to throw away the first chapter.  Should you?  That depends.  Many writers make the mistake of including far too much background information in the first chapter.  This is because they are anxious to set the groundwork for the rest of novel. They want readers to know everything about their character from the start.

The first chapter should start where the action begins.  This action can be either physical, such as a fight or a boating accident--or emotional such as losing a love one or other trauma that might cause strong feelings. 

The first chapter should not start with a lot of who, what and where explanation about your character and how he got into this mess. The first chapter should provide only the bare essentials in background information.  For example, it might be necessary for the reader to know where your hero lives, but not, at this point, where he went to school, how many kids he has, whether or not he gets along with his mother.  These points can be introduced if and when they become pertinent to the story. Though additional information is necessary, it does not all have to be crowded into the first chapter.  If there is too much explanation, most of it can be discarded, and what is essential should be threaded into to a later part of the book.

What goes in the Middle of the First Chapter

Now that you have gotten their interest, you must develop the chapter by deepening the conflict.  If you have started with a point of action, now is the time to bring into focus the details of the event, and the character’s reactions to the event.    

If the chapter begins with a car accident, now the protagonist can react to the situation and a bit can be told about his or her reaction the the situation.

End with a Question or Cliffhanger

Just as the first chapter begins with a bang, it should not end with a whimper.  The final lines should pose a question that draws readers into the next chapter.

If your book is a mystery, have the detective discover an unusual lead or clue he plans to follow up on.  If your story is a romance, cut the first chapter off at the point where the boy asks the girl for a date, not after the reader already knows her answer.  If you are writing a thriller, stop the first chapter with the hero hanging onto the ledge of the building, not after he has jumped to safety.

By the end of the first chapter the reader should
*be introduced to the main characters
*know where the story takes place
*Have a feeling for the atmosphere of the book
*be introduced to the main problem or conflict and some kind of mental or physical excitement

  More Writing Tips:  Fiction: From Writing to Publication

Check back for more tips on writing the middle part of the novel and the ending!

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Prologue and the Epilogue in Fiction

 Both the prologue and epilogue are devices that help explain a complicated story.

A prologue appears at the beginning of a novel, and serves as an introduction to tell what has gone on before.  An epilogue appears at the end of the novel and tells what happened years after the story has ended.

It is not necessary to have both a prologue and an epilogue.  Many books have a prologue with no epilogue.  Others have both.  However, an epilogue is seldom used without a prologue.

The Prologue

A prologue is an introduction that is not quite a chapter. It is set apart from the rest of the book either in time or in viewpoint.  Its purpose is to provide necessary backstory for the novel which cannot be told in any other way.

A prologue may be used for dramatic effect.  A common use of the prologue in a thriller is to have the prologue either be in the villain’s viewpoint, or to start the story with a murder scene or crime in progress, an evil face peering into a window, or someone hearing the footsteps of a stalker. Then the novel begins with the detective or main character’s viewpoint.

The Epilogue-“And they Lived Happily Ever After…

An epilogue is a short piece tagged on to the ending that is usually not quite as long as a chapter.  Its purpose is to tell what happened long after the story has ended.  Often, it will tell whether the main characters married, had children, moved to a farm in the country. 

An epilogue is not necessary unless you have a novel that spans a long period of time or have an event such as a birth or a wedding that is not covered by the ending.  Often, in a historical romance, the book will end with a kiss, and the epilogue might start seven year after and tell that the couple married and had three or four children and lived to ripe old ages.  Facts the reader might want to know, but that take place far after the ending of the story.

 Use of a Prologue and Epilogue to Indicate a Span of Time not Covered in the Novel

In Mary Higgins Clark’s I Heard that Song Before, the prologue introduces the main character as a little girl who overhears a cryptic conversation in a hidden chapel on the Carrington Estates, of which her father is landscaper.  The first chapter begins with the same character as a grown woman.  She returns and falls in love with Peter Carrington, but what she overheard that night might be a clue to the murders her new husband has been accused of.  An epilogue tells the state of affairs a year later.   

Use of a Prologue and Epilogue to Span Years of History

In a novel that spans years or decades, a prologue might serve the purpose of  explaining  events pertinent to the plot that went on before the novel begins. For example, Robert Goddard’s historical suspense novel Name to a Face has both a prologue and an epilogue.  The prologue begin at an earlier time than the story takes place  Godfrey Schillingstone has discovered a mysterious secret he is about to reveal to the world, one that will bring him great academic fame.  But before he can show what his discovery, he is murdered.

The actual first chapter begins with another character, Tim Harding, who in modern times finds Schillingstone’s discovery has some bearing on a mysery in the present.

Here is a sampling of books with prologues and epilogues.
Dead Souls  Ian Rankin  (prologue)
The Associate Philip Margolin (prologue)
I Heard that Song Before Mary Higgins Clark  (prologue and epilogue)
Name to a Face Robert Goddard  (prologue and epilogue)
Cruel and Unusual  Patricia Cornwell (prologue and epilogue)