7 ways to fix a boring book (and avoid getting stuck in the middle)

Last night I searched for how to fix a boring book, because I was stuck and frustrated. I’ve been procrastinating for weeks and just couldn’t get into the flow… which is totally normal when you’re in the middle of the book and realize you don’t have enough story to get to the end.

I was inspired by Chuck Wendig’s article, 25 ways to fight your story’s mushy middle, and spent a few hours brainstorming new stuff to put in (characters, scenes, locations, conflicts) which lead to several new scenes and chapters. Now the book I didn’t think would be so good, is going to be much better – and writing the rest quickly will be much easier now that I know where things go, and am excited about the epic scenes I’ve mapped out.

Here are 7 tips that helped me get unstuck in the middle of writing my novel, and keep the action trotting along to the end without getting boring.

  1. new character
  2. more epic locations
  3. a quest or puzzle
  4. more conflict – relationship, characters
  5. Added monsters
  6. Lose a battle badly (someone dies?) Guilt.
  7. forced to not get what she wants (sacrifice)

 

Scroll down for more…

 

UPDATE: This was for Orpheum, which finally turned out pretty good. I had to add:

  • Her allies revealing their powers and backstories + an epic team challenge to test her
  • A bloody massacre where she reveals a dark power + innocents getting hurt
  • A violent snake attack that kills one of her allies (and the protagonist losing control and hurting another ally)
  • A mysterious clue written by her dead father, pointing to a new location
  • A final confrontation with the antagonist
  • Attaining goal, final twist, losing what she wants most.

 

More recently I’ve been stuck on Taste, for a few months. I was already at 50K but felt like I was just getting started, but not ready to dive into my epic conflict scenes or the resolution. Mostly because: This book starts off faster, so there’s less time to get to know the characters. If readers don’t LOVE the characters, they won’t care who gets killed. So I needed to add levity in the middle, touching scenes between partners, more backstory and angst.

  • First, I added some dead bodies. (Show the stakes).
  • Then, I added a threat (King personally warns her not to get mixed up with rebels, has his eye on her).
  • Next, I added a girl’s night out that ends badly and a new character that comes to the rescue (he’ll be useful later).
  • There’s internal, emotional conflict between the protagonist and the prince she’s supposed to marry, and also external conflict and mystery (murders, plotting, intrigue).
  • Then (this is crucial) I added a nice, beautiful scene just before shit hits the fan. For the first time, the prince is nice to her, they’re bonding, it’s a beautiful day in the park with friends… a taste of the new life she’s been given and the prince’s kindness… but then the peace is shattered by an Event.
  • Now it’s all action: she’s forced to choose between her now role and her old friends; rebels are executed; a monster attacks, secrets are revealed…

There’s a LOT of twists, turns and backstory in Taste. So while it’s going to be my best book, it was also a lot harder to get all the pieces straight (what happens when, and why does it matter?) Remember it can’t just be an information dump, it has to be a surprise, and it has to MATTER, both on an emotional level, and on the plot directly.

 

When you get stuck…

First, add some bodies. Figure out who killed them and why – or even if it’s just a random accident, it shows the danger of the struggle.

The second act of the novel is for the antagonist. That means from 25% to 75% the antagonists are put through the gauntlet; the antagonists and challenges keep stacking up. This could be a natural challenge (earthquake, storm), a quest being thwarted. Don’t just make them find the key to unlock the box; make them find a guy who knows where a letter is, which leads to the key, which isn’t what they thought, and doesn’t work on the box. 

For every,  “Step one lead to Step two” add three more steps and three more sources of conflict (conflict between allies as well – allies should never just all get along, especially not the love interest. They should be secretive, mistrustful, and every time they take a step closer together, that trust should be broken again).

First, figure out what the characters need or want to do next. If they don’t need or want anything, then it’s not their turn: it’s the antagonist’s turn to attack or shake things up or kill someone, or else they need to accidentally discover a clue that let’s them know what to do or where to go next. Once you know what they need to do or where they need to go, stack up obstacles to make the quest difficult. Don’t let them get what they want; as soon as they get it, take it away from them again (by a traitor within their ranks probably). When they think they have all the pieces and confront the antagonist, reveal why they got it all wrong – their actions were based on misinformation.

Finally, the antagonists offers them exactly what they’ve always wanted, and they refuse it because they’ve found other things they care about more.

 

Larry Brooks has a book called “Story Fix” and Chris Fox‘s new book “Plot Gardening” might help.
Also Steven Pressfield’s “Nobody Wants to Read your Shit” is a great basic primer on story.
 
Someday I’m going to make a tool with 1000 story writing prompts you can shake like a magic 8ball to get unstuck.

 

 

 

About Derek Murphy

Derek Murphy is a book designer with a Ph.D. in Literature. He's been featured on CNN and spoken at dozens of writing conferences around the world. These days he mostly writes young adult fantasy and science fiction, while helping authors build profitable publishing platforms. Find me

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