Here's what she had to say...
THE MUDDLE OF THE BOOK
For several years I have been writing both historical novels set in Tudor England and contemporary suspense set in modern day America. Published since 1982, I have written over 50 novels. But in creating each one, my biggest challenge is in writing a strong middle of the book, which I have come to think of as the muddle of the book. Each time I have to say to myself, “No sagging middle” –and I’m not talking about middle age spread or the need of a diet. The middle of the book must be lean and mean—it must move!
The problem is that, by the middle of the novel, I’m juggling a lot of characters, and in my suspense novels, more than one who-done-it character who might be the villain. I’ve worked hard to get off to a grabber beginning. I pride myself with those to get the reader immediately involved in the story and the main character’s dilemma. I often know what the exciting, rewarding ending of the book will be—ah, but to get there with flair and excitement, that’s the task.
It usually works to add something shocking, another death or murder, or to be certain the main character is in a real mess in the middle of the book. The short excerpt I’ve included below comes from the middle of my recent release, The Irish Princess, where the Irish heroine, a real historic woman whose family was nearly wiped out by King Henry VIII, gets an opportunity to wreak revenge—to kill him. He has locked up her father, “the uncrowned king of Ireland,” in the Tower of London where he died, he’s had her brother and uncles executed and her Irish castle besieged, so it’s easy for the reader to see what motivates her.
In the romantic suspense novel I’m writing now, Return to Grace, book #2 in my new Amish trilogy, a key character who could be the murderer in a rural Ohio town heavily populated by the Amish goes missing—simply vanishes. No sign of a struggle, his car in the garage. Although this man was trying to take over Amish farmland, the Plain People willingly go out on a foot search in hilly terrain for him. The mystery of how and why he’s gone missing; the suspense of the search for him; and the reader’s (hopefully) being surprised the author would ‘get rid of’ one of the prime suspects, hopefully ups the ante and carries the reader through what could have been a sagging section of the book.
One thing I’ve noted again and again, including right now when I’m in the muddle of that novel, is that, while I write the muddle, I try to keep my outer world very organized—as if that would help control the book itself. I drive my husband crazy over-cleaning and over-arranging things. I straighten my desk, clean out a cupboard, the car’s glove compartment—anything to control something when the middle of the book seems messy.
But the reader needs an extra to boost the middle, so it’s worth working hard for. Keep the reader turning the pages! Being aware of this whether as a writer or a reader is fascinating. They say that, once you’re a writer you never really read only for pleasure again, that you’re always looking at how the story is constructed. And propping up a possible sagging middle will keep the reader whizzing through the pages, unable to put that book down and looking for the next one. And thankfully, for twenty-nine years now, there has always been a Karen Harper book on American and foreign bookshelves—and for e-readers too.
A Note from the Book Boost: Thanks for sharing your techniques on muddling through the middle book slumps, Karen! This has always been a problem for me as well. I love how you cope with the out of control feeling by "driving your hubby crazy". LOL Please tell us more about your book.
From the national bestselling author of Mistress Shakespeare comes a grand-scale drama starring Gera Fitzgerald, a would-be Irish Princess who is forced from her homeland and thrust into King Henry VIII’s treacherous Tudor court.
Though bold and rebellious, Gera holds close to her heart Edward Clinton, an ambitious courtier who understand her heart. Even as Gera works to undermine King Henry, she seeks to protect his young daughter Princess Elizabeth, a kindred spirit fighting to survive, whose future is linked to Gera’s own.
From County Kildare’s lush green fields to London’s rough-and-tumble streets and the royal court’s luxurious pageantry, The Irish Princess follows the journey of a daring woman whose will cannot be tamed and who won’t be satisfied until she restores her family to its rightful place in Ireland.
The king was dying, but I was going to kill him anyway.
As I took a silent step into the king’s bedchamber, I felt the tip of Dudley’s dagger prick my elbow. Truth be told, I had come to kill the king for my people and my country, and for all those he had foully murdered while claiming to be the savior of his people. But if my other enemy’s dagger did the deed and was discovered, let John Dudley suffer for it.
I moved silently, giving my eyes time to adjust, though there was little enough to bump into but the bed, which dwarfed everything. I felt I’d opened a long-sealed tomb. No air stirred, and the stench of the king’s abscessed leg, the very smell of death, sat heavy here.
I parted the bed curtains so I could see within. At first, I thought I saw only a pile of pillows, but the king was propped upon them. I knelt on the mattress, dragging my skirts and the shawl around my waist. I crawled closer, my fingers gripping the dagger handle so hard that my entire frame shook as I began to lift it.
I held my breath and positioned myself to strike. Then a voice, soft, wheezing, said from the depths of the black bed and the huge, fleshy frame, “You’ve come to bed at last, my dearest love, my angel.”
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