Many writers dread the middle of a novel. Beta readers describe middles in unfortunate terms like messy, boring, draggy, or saggy. While the beginning delivers the hook and the end gets to redefine everything that came before it, the middle is just the middle. It gets us from Point A to Point B.
Call me crazy, but I love the middle. It can be tricky to write, but it’s the part I look forward to most as a reader. Nothing beats a book with an expertly-crafted middle. If you’ve been viewing your middle as more of an absence of a negative — removing the sag, for example — than a positive, you’re missing out.
Here are just a few reasons to love the middle.
The middle has a solid foundation
Like any new relationship, the beginning of a book can feel a little uncomfortable. We can’t jump into the really juicy stuff yet because we hardly know each other. Sometimes we interrupt the flow by inserting an expository tidbit into the action.
By the middle of the book, readers have plenty of context. They can relax into the story and really feel each experience with your protagonist. When a big crisis hits, they understand exactly what it means for your characters. Because your readers have a pretty solid idea of who your protagonist is, you can take more risks and get into some powerful plot points without having to worry about making the right first impression.
In other words, you’ve built a sturdy foundation and established a relationship with your readers. This gives you room to start having fun.
You can stop worrying (so much) about exposition and start thinking about change
When I’m just getting to know someone, they occasionally have to stop the conversation to fill me in on backstory. When I hang out with my best friend who I’ve known since childhood, we can skip straight to the good stuff. Once your story hits its stride in the middle of the book, you can explore complex situations with the assumption that readers know the lay of the land.
This is also where change starts to happen. Your protagonist’s initial assumptions, beliefs, or plans might not serve them for much longer. Readers come along for the ride and feel that challenge right alongside your hero. It’s deep stuff, and you can only explore it after you get past the icebreakers.
No one needs to worry about the end yet
As a reader, the final third of any book makes me nervous. I start running through a list of worries in my mind: how will everything wrap up in time? Will the ending disappoint me? I don’t feel ready to say goodbye to the characters or the story world yet. I want to slow my pace, but I can’t stop reading! The end of a book feels like the last full day of an epic vacation. No matter how much fun I have, I feel bittersweet and a little distracted.
Compare that to the middle of the vacation. I’ve unpacked my bags and gotten into the swing of things, but don’t yet have to think about the goodbyes and flight check-ins and week’s worth of unread emails waiting at the other end. I can throw myself into the experience wholeheartedly.
That’s the middle of the story. Readers can live life in your story world to the fullest, without the stress of new introductions or unwanted goodbyes. Don’t shortchange it. Seize this opportunity for your readers and your characters to spend true quality time together.