Shifting Gears at the Midpoint of the Novel


marbles lined up

All lined up–for a different game?

Strictly speaking, I’m supposed to be working on Act III, but I’ve been spending a lot of time on the two-chapter spread that makes up the midpoint of the novel, the middle of Act II. For me, this is a danger area, because it’s the point where the protagonist is supposed to become fully committed to solving the problem in the novel, after something happens which clarifies the course of action that she must take. It’s often something that has to do with the subplot.

My characters have gone and pulled a fast one on me. A major character has become a bit of a boring letdown, and a side character has taken a starring role, despite all the disadvantages I’ve dumped on him. Or maybe because of the disadvantages. Neither of these guys were supposed to have that much of a starring role. As it is, they’ve created a real dilemma for my heroine Charlotte, one I hadn’t planned on.

So I should just go with the flow, right? Not necessarily. Because everything that happens at this point now becomes an essential part of Charlotte’s story all the way through to the end of the novel, and quite possibly having reverberations into Book Three. Oh, who am I kidding. I know it’s going to have reverberations in Book Three. This is a story line that’s screaming to be written. And it threatens to change the nature of what I’m writing.

Back when I first decided to write a novel, I thought I would write a cozy mystery, under the illusion that I wanted to write something light and fun. But my cozy premise warped into women’s fiction/amateur female sleuth more than a mystery with a “hook,” as certain publishers are currently describing cozies. I soon realized that I couldn’t do funny, or talking cats (although Charlotte does talk to Shamus), or a hobby-based theme such as knitting or cooking or witchcraft. I could do midlife angst, though, and thus wrote the novel that was actually in me. It qualified as a cozy because it didn’t have any explicit violence, language, or sex, but a woman of a certain age who has downsized, then turned the skills of observation she acquired in her former profession into a means of uncovering motivation is not much of a hook. It’s a dramatic premise.

So what do I do? Market it as a straight mystery? Change the cover art from vector graphics to a moody photo? No one seems to be saying no, but of course I don’t want to fix what ain’t broke. It’s been a really hard one to call.

And now my characters are really challenging the cozy pigeon hole. Their relationships are complex and increasingly mature, the nature of the crime is colder, the motivation darker. Even in idyllic Elm Grove, and among the good-hearted people that are Charlotte’s friends, the world is not a sweet and cozy place.

I’m gonna have to sleep on this one.


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One thought on “Shifting Gears at the Midpoint of the Novel

  • Elizabeth S. Craig

    A few cozy series have done that (morphed) with varying results. I know one trad-published writer who did get some kickback, but it was because she’d ramped up the violence and language in the previous very long-running cozy-crafting series (involving a rape of a beloved character). That was pushing the envelope for her readers and she definitely heard about it.

    But I think you’re following your characters’ lead, which is so important. You’re early enough in your series that you can really set the course and not lose readers. I think I’d hear the characters out and see what direction they take you. You can always change marketing later…no need to really worry about it now. Just my thoughts.