Friday, March 25, 2016

Creating Tension: Change It Up

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a love of all things literary. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days with her husband, Matt, imagining things unseen and chasing their two children around their home in Northern California. To connect with Shan, check out her website, FB, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

The other day, I had a writer friend ask for help. She'd reached the middle of her novel and had no idea where to go next.

If you've written anything longer than three pages, you may well understand this moment.

Soggy middles are real. They happen to the best of us. But there is good news. There are so many great tools out there for propping up those weak moments and perhaps even using the threat of a soggy middle to throw your readers for a immensely satisfying loop.

Those of you who plot out every detail of your stories may not fully appreciate what I have to say, but I bet if you give it a go, you'll be happily surprised by where your own words lead you.


Back to my friend. My snarky first suggestion was to blow something up. A bomb adds all sorts of tension, yes? But you don't need to actually blow up a set piece to generate fireworks in your story.

For example, what happens to your story if a good guy suddenly becomes a bad guy? What if your lead's loyal sidekick isn't so loyal after all? What if he's been reporting to the villain throughout the entire journey? And what if you revealed this fact to the reader several chapters before your naive little hero figured it out? What then? 

Tension. That's what!

And what happens if the princess your hero has been trying to rescue, is actually the mastermind behind all the villain's schemes?

What if the hero you've worked so hard to put on the throne, turns out to have no legitimate claim to the crown? Are his friends still friendly or does he have to watch his back?

What if the child your hero lost an arm rescuing is actually the shape-shifting dragon that must be slain in order to free the kingdom from the fiery terror? 

What if, right?

Introducing a dramatic change into the course of your story adds tension. And not just for the characters.

Reaching the point in a story where you've exhausted all your planning and it's led you to a slow, soggy place, can actually be a good thing for a writer working on an early draft. 

Use this moment to surprise yourself. Consciously choose to change something you once considered vital. Something you were counting on. Something you were writing toward.

It can be a brutal decision to make, but I bet it'll lift you over that soggy middle and bring the kind of tension that keeps readers turning the pages.

Tell me, have you ever written yourself to a soggy middle? If so, have you considered changing something crucial in order to move the story forward?


  1. My story was soggy until the go teen writers book helped a lot. My middle is still soggy because things are just happening and it's choppy. My writing friend says I'm lucky; she's too descriptive the story gets stuck. Oh well. It's only the first draft

    1. We all have our own difficulties. Later drafts certainly help, but know that time and experience are also friends to us all.

  2. Excellent advice!

    I'm not entirely sure about my own soggy middles. Mostly I run around like a chicken without a head during middles, so I can't really pause to analyze their sogginess.

    1. LOL! So accurate. There is nothing to be lost by throwing some plot bunnies into the headless chicken mix.

  3. I've been through soggy middles before, and this is great advice to counter them!

  4. Soggy middles? always! definitely bookmarking this for the next time :) and may also use it in my edits now... Thank you for this post!

  5. I'm usually able to avoid a completely soggy middle (avid plotster here), but I definitely do end up with individual scenes that have no effect on the overall plot or characters. When that happens, I either cut the scene or find some way to make it "do something". Thanks for the post, Mrs. Dittemore!

    1. I definitely agree with the cutting, though as a non-plotter I find myself with a lot more giving things more purpose or making them "do something".

  6. Amazing tip! AND SOGGY MIDDLES UGH THEY ARE MY LIFE RIGHT NOW. Trouble is, I know the end and exactly how that's going to play out, but I've not any clue on how to get there.

    Ellie | On the Other Side of Reality

    1. Throwing in some experimental ideas will really help you! It can take you interesting places. I once solved my writer's block by having my characters get into a giant food fight. Which sounds really stupid, but it was super fun and definitely worked for the story.

  7. Sad to say, but I've actually never truly reached the "middle" of a story :/