Whenever the writing bug gets you motivated to work a new novel, chances are you have clear inspiration for the way your story begins and the problem your protagonist must face. As that nugget of an idea progresses, you may also come up with a brilliant ending—the perfect way to show your character in a final showdown with his problem. Here’s an article on writing satisfying endings: 5 Tips to Write a Satisfying Ending. What may end up being a little less clear: how to get your character from point A to point B.
The middles of novels are notorious for being incredibly difficult to write, for a myriad of reasons. Having a good plan of action on how to keep your novel’s middle from sagging can also be key to actually completing your manuscript. Countless manuscripts have been tossed into drawers after the writer wades into a middle without a good sense of direction; instead of moving forward, they find themselves hopelessly stuck.
Fortunately, there are many ways to make the middle of your novel crackle with as much tension and conflict as the beginning and end. Here are three tips:
1. Raise the Stakes
Often middles need the introduction of something new. A twist that changes everything for your protagonist. A problem that shakes the progress your character has made. The middle is the perfect place to raise the stakes for your character and make their goal even harder to reach.
Think of The Fellowship of the Ring by Tolkien, for example. It’s in the middle of the book that Frodo has, after much struggle, gotten the ring to the land of the elves, where he hopes to be done with the grueling task that’s been put upon him. Unfortunately, he’s wrong. An argument at a council between allies leaves Frodo in a position where he feels he must volunteer to take the ring to the most dangerous place imaginable, Mordor, to destroy it. The stakes have been raised, and hugely so. Frodo has a new, much worse problem than before.
2. Change the Location
One of my favorite ways to attack the problem of a saggy middle is to take the protagonist into a new setting. Not only does this allow for a feeling of freshness in terms of environment, but it also usually means that the protagonist is going to have to deal with new problems (which feeds into the first tip). A new setting can allow a character to see their problems in a new way or from a different perspective. And most importantly of all, a new setting allows for the introduction of new characters, which leads to the next tip:
3. Bolster Your Supporting Cast
Your character has been working hard in the beginning. If you’ve done a thorough job of character development, by the time you get to the middle, you may need to let your protagonist take the backseat in some ways. Your supporting cast of characters are there to make your protagonist shine and they need some time to be developed. The middle is a perfect place to have those supporting characters come out of the woodwork and start to more fully develop the world your character lives in. This will not only do wonders for making your character and his life seem well-rounded, but it will also give you a chance to work on some of the subplots that drive your story forward.
Ultimately, the middle of your novel has to pack just as much punch as the beginning or end. You can’t rely on a fantastic start to get your readers to the end of the book (even if it is a spectacular end) if the bridge you’ve built to get your readers there is unstable. But with a good plan, your middle can be absolutely riveting and take your novel to the next level.
Ratchet up the conflict in small ways with rivalries with team members, petty bureaucrats who enjoy making life difficult, personal setbacks like health issues or injuries, and ex-lovers with a grudge. A well-rounded protagonist should have a flaw that she is trying to overcome.