In this post, we look at five ways to get you through the middle of your romance novel.
Read the first and second posts in the series here:
Between Once Upon A Time and They All Lived Happily Ever After, is what’s often called, The Mushy Middle. Here, you may find yourself treading gloop.
What Should Happen In The Middle?
According to Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey, from The Man With A Thousand Faces, the middle of all stories should start with:
Crossing the first threshold – By now, as the author, you should have:
- Established the theme of your book.
- Identified the central conflict.
- Revealed and accelerated the characters’ development.
In other words, we’ve had the meet-cute and getting to know each other. Your characters are about to cross the Romance Rubicon. There is no going back.
But you just can’t make it work. Here are Five reasons you’re stuck in the mushy middle and how you can climb out of it.
5 Ways To Get You Through The Middle Of Your Romance Novel
Here, we look at five ways to get you through the middle of your romance novel.
1. The Characters Are Underdeveloped
You know the cardboard cut-outs of movie characters that stand in the cinema foyer? After a month, the cardboard is sagging and looking rumpled around the edges. If, in the middle of your book, your characters feel the same, it was because there wasn’t enough to them to start with.
In a notebook, write as much as you can about each character. Not just the basic life info, but what would they do if X happened and why? Pick anything and it doesn’t need to be part of the plot – he is fired unfairly, he discovers his grandparents are swingers, someone steals his horse, Ferrari, company. Why does he always wear jeans and a white T-shirt? Why does she fail at dates – not just what she does, but what is she really afraid of? Do this for all your characters, even walk-ons. Knowing your characters that well, will inform your writing and also spark ideas for your plot. Speaking of which…
2. The Story Has Run Out Of Plot
You know your book’s beginning and, hopefully, the ending. Unfortunately, you wanted to write a novel and you have barely enough for a novella or a long short story.
Write a novella or a long short story. Both are completely valid storytelling forms. But, if you do want to pursue the novel, then pick up that notebook and start writing a list of ‘What Ifs?’
- What if, in Gone With The Wind, (Margaret Mitchell) when Melanie dies, Scarlett decides she’s had enough of the South, sells Tara and moves to New York to become an actress.
- What if in Pride and Prejudice, (Jane Austen) after being rejected by Elizabeth, Darcy marries her sister Mary?
- What if in The Longest Ride, (film) Sophia is the former bull-riding champion and it’s Luke that is about to embark on his dream art job in New York?
Write down anything. Go nuts. During that nuttiness, your imagination will be ignited, and you’ll come to realise what the right plot is and how to achieve it. But what if…
3. There Wasn’t A Strong Enough Plot To Start With
A greeting card blurb will never sustain a full-length novella, never mind a full-length novel. Apply the same principle as above, but this time to the location. Again, go nuts.
Let’s say your novel is set in New York, present day, pre-pandemic. What does New York have:
- Yellow cabs – our heroine climbs into one not realising it’s a prop for a movie and insists the driver takes her to Chicago. He does and she thinks the people chasing her are bad guys. He knows it’s the film crew.
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art – closes for two weeks’ renovation, but our characters had planned to meet there, and can only communicate with each other via postcards and post-box addresses and there’s a postal strike.
- Central Park – a bear has escaped the zoo and has taken up residence in the park’s cave. Our heroine is a police sharpshooter called to eliminate the bear while our hero, who thinks she’s a chef, is a game ranger who wants to save the bear.
- The High-Line – Our stunt actor hero is afraid of heights but hasn’t told our heroine, who has organised a hot air balloon flight from the High-Line.
4. What If The Book Has Become Bored With Itself
If your story feels as if you’ve read this a million times before, you probably have. Or, you’ve worked hard at creating complex characters, twisty plots, and locations that are characters in themselves and yet, every time someone says, “How’s the book going?’ you’re first response is, ‘Meh’, it’s time for some deep reflection. Or chocolate cake.
Eat chocolate cake. If the sugar rush doesn’t inspire you, then deep reflection it is. Here are a few questions you should be asking:
- What theme did I have in mind when I started? If none, has a theme now emerged that does inspire me?
- Did I have something I wanted to say, or am I simply filling a quota of words?
- What do I find inspiring about the characters and the ending I had in mind?
- What if my book was in the present tense, second person, all the characters are nuns except the hot Latin gardener, and it’s set in Nova Scotia?
- Does my story idea still make me laugh, or cry, or rage at the sky?
- If I stopped writing this, would I care?
5. And Now For Something Completely Different.
There’s no shame in putting the book in a drawer, real or metaphorical, and starting something new. If your brain comes up with a solution and you feel a burning desire to tell that story – awesome. If not, c’est la vie, the book you started writing instead is probably far more interesting anyway.
The Last Word
Remember – you can stay away from the mushy middle by having strong characters, a well-developed plot, and knowing what your ending is, all before you begin writing… and using a notebook to let your imagination go nuts. I hope this gets you through the middle of your romance novel.
TOP TIP: If you want to learn how to write a romance, sign up for our online course, This Kiss.
Suggested Posts On Romance Writing:
- A Quick Start Guide To Writing Romance
- All About The Romance Writing Genre
- The Almost Moment Is The Secret To Successful Romance Writing
- 5 Ways To Write A Modern Romance With A Classic Twist
- Why I Write Romance
- 20 Things To Remember When Writing Category Romance
- The Romantic Heroine
- The Romantic Hero
- The 4 Pillars Of Romance
- What Romance Writers Can Learn From Watching Bridgerton
by Elaine Dodge. Elaine is the author of The Harcourts of Canada series. Elaine trained as a graphic designer, then worked in design, advertising, and broadcast television. She now creates content, mostly in written form, for clients across the globe, but would much rather be drafting her books and short stories.
More Guest Posts
- 5 Ways To End Your Romance Novel
- 5 Ways To Begin Your Romance Novel
- How Romance Writing Makes You A Better Writer
- How To Write Without Your Muse
- Why You Should Love Doing A Rewrite
- 10 Things That Stifle A Writer’s Creativity
- What Procrastination Can Do For You
- Why Do We Love Mr Darcy So?
- What Is A Pastiche & Why Should I Write One?
- How To Write An Author Bio