Muddling through the Murky Middle

Although this is my first post for the Mixed-Up Files, I decided to write about middles. What better place than a blog devoted to middle grade books to examine the middles of stories, and specifically, how to muddle through them. I admit, this is a challenge for me, and I think (I hope) for other authors, too. It’s like rowing a boat across a really murky lake. I can see both shores clearly. I know my beginning, and I can completely visualize the end, but then there’s that whole lake to get across. That whole muddy lake, with floating tree branches, weird looking fish, deep water, icky brown stuff, and who knows what else lurking beneath the surface? How do I get from here to there without straying off course, or worse, sinking?

Working on my second middle grade novel, it seemed I was over-thinking everything — from characters to plot to pacing to…okay…the whole point of the story. Actually, I was stuck. In the middle of the lake. Not sure how to paddle ahead. My inner critic was working overtime, and I was getting worn out.

So I did what most writers need to do at some point. I put the novel aside and gave myself a mental break. During this time, I decided to find out: who navigates middles really well? What do they know that I don’t?

I took four of my all-time favorite middle grade books: Holes by Louis Sachar; So B. It by Sarah Weeks; Love, Ruby Lavender by Deborah Wiles; and Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan, curled up in my favorite chair, and did a “middle experiment.” I placed my thumb smack dab in the middle of each of these terrific books to attempt to solve this whole middle mystery. And here’s what I discovered.

In the middle of Holes, Stanley finds out Zero’s real name, plus in the historical part of the story, Sam is shot. Then there are these three amazing sentences. “Since then, not one drop of rain has fallen on Green Lake. You make the decision. Whom did God punish?”

In the middle of So B. It, Heidi meets Georgia Sweet on her bus ride and muses: “I had begun to think that certain things that seem to happen by accident don’t really happen by accident at all.”

In the middle of Love, Ruby Lavender, the Town Operetta is announced and the chicks are peeping and ready to hatch. And, in Esperanza Rising‘s middle, Esperanza, adjusting to her new life, takes a bath for the first time without her servant helping her bathe and dress.

Ta da! All of these “middles,” I realized, have a few elements in common:

1. The reader finds out something important (no rain fell on Green Lake), or gets a clue to a puzzle in the story (Zero’s real name is Hector Zeroni).

2. Something happens that will connect to the ending (the chicks are peeping).

3. The main character has a moment of insight (things don’t happen by accident).

4. There is a turning point (Esperanza finds out she can do something she never did before).

I jotted these words down: important, clue, connect, insight, turning point. But then I realized something else. In the middles of these books, the characters are also lost. On their journeys, searching for answers. Not sure how to forge ahead.

Just like I was, in the middle of my murky lake.

And I thought, gasp, what if being stuck in the middle is a good thing? Maybe it’s okay to be lost for a while. In fact, maybe I need to be stuck in order to figure out how to get to the end. What if not being sure where to head could prompt me to think outside of the box, or, um, water? Are the tree branches, weird fish, deep water, and icky brown stuff supposed to be there; all part of the grand plan? They’re just rough patches to navigate around, bumps along the way, places I need to row a little harder…each one bringing me closer to the opposite shore. When I pictured them like that, they seemed less like obstacles and more like challenges. After all, what would writing — or anything in life — be without challenges?

Now I have a different way of thinking about middles. I’ve decided it’s the perfect place to stop, let go of the oars, rest, look around, and listen to the stillness. And have faith that at some point, the right path will come floating my way, like a lily pad that was there all along.

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of Calli Be Gold (Wendy Lamb Books/Random House 2011). She’s happy to report that after floating around for a while, she recently completed draft #1 of book #2. Yay! Visit her at


Michele Weber Hurwitz on Twitter
Michele Weber Hurwitz
Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of Ethan Marcus Stands Up (Simon & Schuster/Aladdin), The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days and Calli Be Gold (both Penguin Random House). Visit her at
  1. Excellent post! This is just where I am–muddling through the middle. Great insights. I especially love the idea of my being lost and confused in the middle mirroring how my mc is feeling at that point, too–lost confused. Can’t wait for your next post!

  2. Thank you so much!

  3. Love the lake metaphor. Fantastic post, Michelle!

  4. GREAT post, Michele, and beautifully written! So happy you’re with us here at MUF!

  5. An idea might just come floating your way in the pond 🙂 !

  6. Thanks, Michele, for your insights and inspiration! I’ve been taking a break and avoiding the middle–by actually paddling or just floating in the middle of my pond during this hot summer. So my plan is to enjoy the middle (of my book!) and keep your tips in mind while I’m there.

  7. So helpful! Love your post about middles though I am not yet in the middle of writing an MG book though I hope to be soon!

  8. Thank you everyone, for your great comments 🙂

  9. It’s fun to read the story-writing process of others. Thanks for sharing your insights! I love how you pulled out key concepts, too. Blessings!

  10. Wow! If this is your first post, I can’t wait for your second:) Seriously, you’ve given me so much to think about as well as a jolt of hope to keep pushing through to the end of my own middle muddle. Thank you for that!

    I’m going to try that same experiment with some of my own all-time favorites.

  11. Hahaha – absolutely!

  12. Great post, Michele! I go through the exact same thing – but you’re right, getting stuck in the middle doesn’t have to be tragic. Maybe it’s good for us to be as confused and lost as the characters for a little bit. 🙂

  13. Excellent discussion and thanks for the book recs. ^_^

  14. Jen, couldn’t agree more! Thanks!

  15. So on target! I really love the lake analogy, too. I think the hardest part is keeping the suspense up in the middle without throwing the character a lifeline too soon.