The Urban Dictionary defines “hump day,” as “The middle of a work week (Wednesday); used in the context of climbing a proverbial hill to get through a tough week.”
Of course, it also has the definition, “A term used exclusively by douchebags in reference to Wednesday,” and even douchebags no longer use the word douchebag, so I’m going to stick with definition #1.
It’s kind of like the middle of a novel. Or at least it is for me. Climbing that proverbial hill to get through the really tough part.
Every novel I’ve written turns into a mess in the middle and getting over that hump is always tough. They all start off with a lot of excitement, an idea I think is good, characters I think are interesting. I’ve started novels with a guy getting shot in the head while waiting in his car for a light to change, a body falling from twenty stories onto the hood of a car a hooker just got into, a guy crossing the border from Detroit to Windsor with a trunk full of guns he’s going to trade for dope and now with a couple guys in a rock band robbing a shylock in a casino parking lot.
So far so good.
And the ending, too, is usually a bit of a race as all kinds of loose ends get pulled together (well, most of them anyway) and everything comes crashing together.
But the middle, that’s the tough part.
When I was working in TV the single most common network note that would show up in the writer’s room was, “bigger act out.” The teaser before the opening credits usually runs for three or four minutes and then they find the body and the detective says something pithy. Then fifteen minutes later at the end of Act One we find out something new, something unexpected – it wasn’t a random robbery, the victim was embezzling money from his business partner and he had a plane ticket to Brazil. Fourteen minutes later at the end of Act Two we think we know who did it (the business partner) but then suddenly something is revealed that makes us think what we suspected is wrong – the wife knew about the embezzling and the Brazilian girlfriend. So, Act Three and we’re off on a new direction (usually there’s a scene in the police station where the captain suggests the detectives go back and talk to someone they already talked to) and by the end of the act all looks hopeless, this murderer is going to get away with it.
Luckily there’s a final act and it turns out the Brazilian girlfriend is also having an affair with the business partner and she's the murderer.
Then the detective gets to say something pithy about no honour among thieves or true love or something (that’ll come in a later draft).
So, big act outs, new information, new directions. But no new characters. All the suspects should have been identified in the first half hour.
But an hour long TV show is really a two act structure (as are most movies, not three acts at all but don’t get me started on that) without a middle. It’s all set up and pay off.
But a novel doesn’t have to be like, that does it? It doesn’t have to be so rigidly structured, does it? A novel doesn’t have to be over in time for the late local news. Why can’t new characters be introduced anytime? Or killed off at anytime? Why can’t a novel go off on a tangent or develop some sub-plot?
What’s the middle of a novel really for?