Three Tips for Moving Your Writing Forward

There’s an old saying that goes, “Every novel has three parts—the beginning, the end, and the muddle.” Anyone who has ever written or tried to write a novel knows this saying is as true as it is humorous. You start off knowing how the book begins and how it ends, but somehow no matter how much you plot, the middle remains amorphous. You know where you’re going but you’re not sure how to get there. It’s like your writing GPS has suddenly shut down.

As a freelance book editor, I frequently find my clients lose their way as the plot nears the halfway mark. They either push too hard to get through the “muddle” and end up leaving out necessary plot points, or they wander through it as if seeking escape from a maze and end up with page after page of pointless prose.

Here are three tips I use to get through the middle without it becoming a muddle.

To tell or not to tell: Writers often get bogged down writing more than they need. For instance, if the hero develops a plan to accomplish a certain mission, they spend pages explaining the plan before he executes it. Then in the following pages, the writer describes the hero doing what the author previously told the reader what he was going to do.

Here’s a tip: If your hero’s plan succeeds, don't tell the plan beforehand. If the plan is doomed to failure, do tell the reader the plan beforehand. In the former, you build tension because the reader is anxious to discover what the plan is and whether it succeeds. In the latter, tension is built as the reader sees the plan falling apart. Only if the reader knows the plan beforehand can they know when it begins to falter.

Scene vs. narrative: Every writer has heard the old saw, “Show, don’t tell.” But what about scene vs. narrative? When do you use a scene to move the plot forward and when do you use a narrative summary?

In scenes, the reader experiences events as they happen rather than being told about them. A narrative summary tells the story rather than letting the story unfold through the actions of the characters. In a scene, the character is actively doing something to move the story forward. A narrative summary is used to move the story forward when the characters are inactive. One reason to use a narrative summary is to skip over a period of time in which nothing pertinent to the plot occurs.

If you're, stuck on writing, do something else: Many writers scoff at the idea of writer’s block. They barrel through the writing despite not knowing where they’re going, leaving that “muddle” behind them. Often, it’s because they face a publisher’s deadline. However, if you find yourself having problems moving the story forward and you have the luxury of not facing a deadline, give yourself a break. Put the book away for a day or two, maybe a week. Work on another writing project or just putter around the garden—anything to let your head clear and your subconscious work on the problem.

Every writer has their own way of working, but I find these tips work for me and my author clients. I hope they help you, too.