The problem with middles and No Mortal business is on sale

No Mortal Business is on sale right now!

The problem with the middle is right there in the name. It’s not the beginning or the end. When I’m writing a book, I do away entirely with “the middle” and write the first half of the book with the action always escalating. By the middle point, everything that the book has to deal with has to already be on the table. In debate, you can’t add any new information in your closing and books should be treated the same way. Any strands that are added in the second half are for the next book.

Once you reach that tipping point in your book, you move from always escalating to always tying up loose ends. I think it’s also the point in your story where you go from oh, god, how am I going to make this into a book length story to the oh, god, how am I going to get all of this wrapped up in the word length your aiming for.

So in the book itself, it’s easy enough to avoid the middle, but what happens when you’re writing the middle book of the series? No Mortal Business had a major rewrite last year. When I finished it, I realized that I was telling the story as though people were just finishing the first book and moving onto the second book, and that’s not fair. Some series can have years pass between what has happened and what is happening. Life happens. In the future people might be able to pick up all three books and read them start-to-finish, but that’s not how books should be written. No Mortal Business didn’t have a story within the story. It started at the end of the first book and took the readers to the start of the third, but it didn’t do anything. After I read what I had written, it was a humbling experience.

But good books aren’t written, they’re rewritten. Going back and reframing the second book as trying up all but the single strand of plot that escapes to tell the story in the third book keeps second books from feeling like the muddle where nothing changes. It should have a beginning, middle and end just like any other book. What I try to avoid is the Star Wars second book curse. While any story at the end of the 2/3rds mark should through the characters up against their breaking point, it’s not always necessary to follow the first book the good guys win, second book the bad guy crushes the good guys to the point where all hope is lost and Han Solo is carbonite/the clone army is undefeatable, the third book the plucky heros crush the bad guys despite the overwhelming odds trope.

At the end of No Mortal Business, Finn’s pretty much at a good place. The overall plot hasn’t been tied up neatly with a bow, but the second half of the story is one of my favourite sections of story I’ve ever done. If the first draft hadn’t had the major flaws that it had, I would never have jumped off the cliff I did at the end of the story. Writing is a series of paint jobs where you paint yourself into the corner time after time, and I love the way Finn gets out of his corner. He’s a plucky little seal and even though he’s up against impossible odds and the power of the Pacific ocean herself.

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