The Dreaded Middle by Nancy Radke

Writing the beginning of a book is exciting and fun. The author puts the pot on the stove and throws in the main ingredients.



The Beginning

At the beginning the author has plenty of things to write about. New characters can be described physically, named, and their most important character strengths and flaws shown as needed. New families can be created and new friends or enemies described.

Then there is a new setting ready to be explored, which includes place and time of year. In my latest Lucky Dog cozy mystery this was my first major change in the series, as the story begins in a December snowstorm. The snow makes it difficult to drive and this becomes one of the reasons a “clue” doesn’t get very far.

The beginning of a story also sets up the plot question which brings in the conflict. In a mystery, the question is usually going to be “who killed —?” If it is a romance, the question will be “who gets the heroine?” Or “who ends up with the hero?” In most of my books, such as Turnagain Love, there is only one choice. In others, such as Dangerous Inheritance, there are two fellows interested in the heroine and she has to choose between them.

The beginning is great fun to write. The book fairly charges along by itself. The ending can be seen, but there are still many words to write. To have a book start, then end without any development of the plot, wouldn’t really be worth reading. The writer now comes to the middle. Many would-be writers stop here. Their files are full of books they started but never finished.

The Middle

What do you put in the middle? Here is where the pot simmers and boils. Rather than looking at it as a dreaded empty space, the writer should be happy. Now is the time for the plot development that fleshes out the characters of hero and heroine, that enriches the conflict they face, that builds the emotions they feel. It is the time when the reader discovers the how and why of the actions and feelings of the main characters. It can be greatly influenced by the choices they make or the environment they are in.

The middle determines the final choices that the hero and heroine make. If it is not logical, the reader will be disappointed. They must choose in a way that reflects who they are. The reader has been expecting this choice. If the book is a mystery, the villain must be hidden until the end, but the middle must provide the clues.

The End

The middle sets up the ending. The pot comes off the stove and the food is eaten. A good book will leave the reader feeling full and satisfied, enjoying the taste of the combined elements. The plot made sense. In a mystery, the now-revealed villain had a strong reason for what he/she did.

How many times were you able to discover the villain before the author revealed him? This is what makes writing the mystery so difficult. In my favorite book, Scorpion’s Trail, I was able to keep the Scorpion hidden until the ending, yet the clues were all there.

Scorpion's Trail

(On Friday the 14th, I will put Scorpion’s Trail in a Kindle Countdown, starting at 99 cents.)

Be Prepared

It pays to be prepared. Little things can make a big difference in how you handle an emergency.

I remember when Seattle had some pretty deep snowfalls. The weight of the snow and ice brought down tree limbs, resulting in power outages for two weeks or longer. The snow took our electricity, but because it wasn’t a city-wide outage, we got our power restored in six hours. As I lit my candles and made sure my natural gas stove was burning, I wondered how people with only electric appliances were doing.

Be Prepared

The first step to being prepared is to check the weather history of your area and see what weather emergencies are the most common. In Seattle, we don’t worry about hurricanes, but we do have high winds in the spring and fall that topples trees, sometimes an entire forest area at a time. In my area, the trees fall to the north, so I took down large Douglas Fir trees on my south side and planted some “people friendly” trees that won’t destroy my home or cars when they fall.

Prepare alternate sources of heat, light, water, and money.
  • Heat: have a pellet stove, wood burning, or natural gas stove that will keep your house warm. Avoid what happened a few years ago in Texas where the windmills froze, killing some people without electricity.
  • Light: flashlights are nice, but batteries don’t last forever, so keep some candles in a box, along with some matches or a lighter.
  • Water: in case of flooding, clean drinking water is a must.
  • Money: when the cash registers won’t take your credit cards for lack of electricity, cash is always accepted. Keep a reasonable amount on hand, to buy food or medicines.

Forest fires are on the rampage because the federal forests are not being managed like they used to. If the underbrush is not cut (making tinder) and mature trees not harvested like we used to do, then it sets up a situation where the forests burn so hot it is almost impossible to put them out. If you live in an area where this might happen, make sure you have fireproof shingles and siding and cut away trees from the house. Hot fires send sparks airborne, so that a strong wind carries the fire miles ahead of the actual burn. Also fix a “bug-out bag” so that you can leave instantly if you have to. Know your escape routes before you have to drive.

Think ahead.

Don’t be like the man who prepared for a hurricane by buying a large amount of steaks to put in his freezer so that he’d have enough to eat. After he got them home, he realized he wouldn’t have any electricity to keep the freezer going. So, he set up his barbecue and invited all his neighbors over for a steak dinner.

One of my books, Stolen Secrets, is set during an unexpected pre-Thanksgiving snowstorm that we had some years ago in Seattle. Another book, Turnagain Love, is set on a small island, where the heroine discovers she doesn’t have any water or electricity or a way to get off the island. Another survival book, The Toughest Man in the Territory, is set in Wyoming near Yellowstone Park.

Nancy Radke Christmas

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Avalanche Puppy