Avoid a Sagging Middle with These Three Tips

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You’ve read about how to start your manuscript. Here’s a great article for more on that: Beginning Middle End: How to Nail Your Opening Chapter. You’ve learned how to end with a bang. Here’s more on that: Four Tips to Write a Satisfying Ending. But what about the middle? What do you write in all of those pages to keep your reader invested enough to find out that never-saw-it-coming plot twist? The answer is you write a great middle of your novel. Remember, starting with a bang gets people going, but an intriguing middle keeps them turning pages. Here are three tips for how to do it.

Will They or Won’t They

The middle of your novel is when the protagonist is working toward her goal. You should have established a compelling one in the first act. This is where they encounter a series of increasingly difficult obstacles toward obtaining it. The tension is whether or not your character will get what they want. The tension is built by them getting close to achieving it only to be pulled back by a series of setbacks.

For instance, let’s look at the movie Romancing the Stone as an example. (It’s also one of my favorite movies!) The heroine’s sister has been kidnapped in South America. Will mild-manned romance novelist Joan Wilder get her back? Well, she successfully flies south. Yes, she will! But a bad guy was waiting for her at the airport. No, she won’t. But wait, she got away from him! Yes she will! But she got on the wrong bus. No, she won’t. Most of the movie is this back and forth of Joan’s successes and failures on her goal of finding her sister.

This is what the middle of a novel does too. It toggles between the heroine getting closer to her goal only to be pulled back. The key is that every time your hero has a win, he also needs to hit a new brick wall. The journey becomes harder as it goes along. If your middle is a series of scenes that answers directly – will they or won’t they meet their goal – then you are likely nailing the middle. Always ask yourself how the scene relates back to that central purpose of your protagonist reaching his/her goal.

Does the Middle Matter?

The other way to keep your middle from sagging is to ask, “Does this matter?” Another way to say that is, “Does this serve the central story?” If the answer is no, or if you’re just writing scenes to illustrate an element of character or setting, but it doesn’t really lead anywhere, rethink it. Middles get boring when nothing pertinent to the story happens. Keep yours interesting by making sure new events and obstacles keep arising.

Build to a Smaller Peak

While the last act of your book includes the dark moment and resolution, the middle should build to smaller peaks. Ideally your protagonist has multiple goals, and as the story progresses, he can work toward each of them, building peaks and valleys of tension. I find as a rule of thumb that if I’m not that interested in what I’m writing or if it feels boring…it might be. Come up with new ways of challenging your characters, and your middle will write itself.

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About Author

Mary is a young adult writer and archaeologist. By day she teaches at a local college, and by night she writes about the adventures of adolescence.

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