Authors and readers alike tend to dread the middle: it’s easy to lose your way. After revising your opening, you have several chapters of well-paced action interspersed with relevant backstory and exposition. You know where you want your story to go. Maybe you’ve even cheated a little and written part of your closing chapter. That just leaves the middle.
While the middle can feel intimidating or boring, it doesn’t have to be. In fact, it gives your writing a chance to shine as you focus on subplots and character development. Here are some tips for a middle that feels every bit as exciting and relevant as the chapters that surround it:
Shake up your characters’ goals with a crisis.
Avoid writing a novel that feels like a steady progression from Point A to Point B. That’s a recipe for a bland and tedious middle. Instead, throw in something unexpected to shake things up and put your characters under stress.
A conflict or misunderstanding between characters does this job well, but you don’t always need interpersonal drama. Your main character can travel to a different setting for a change in perspective. A big reveal can call their goals and beliefs into question. Whatever you choose, look for a plot point that complicates your character’s quest and engages the stakes you established in your opening chapters.
Develop your subplots.
Well-crafted subplots will help keep readers’ interest through the middle of your book, but don’t add them just for entertainment value or to pad your word count. Subplots play a vital role in your book’s story and character development. They give your protagonist an opportunity to navigate a variety of situations. The information, obstacles, and experiences they encounter in subplots will make for a more well-rounded ending.
Subplots also act as a foil to your main plot. They allow you to release the tension after a big action scene or add lightness to an emotionally intense chapter. But don’t get carried away: subplots should contribute to your main story, not distract from it.
Build to a mid-story climax.
A major conflict, a character death, a big reveal, or similar “oh sh-t” moment in the middle of your book grabs readers’ attention and renews their interest in the story. Life for your characters has changed, and readers will want to see what this new world looks like for them. Try using your subplots to build to a moment of crisis — just keep it in proportion. You don’t want to steal the thunder from your ending.
Introduce a new character.
Like a crisis or obstacle, a new character can shake things up and facilitate character development. Spacing out character introductions also reduces your chances of confusing the reader. They can only handle so many new names at one time, which means you need to limit the number of characters you introduce in your story’s opening. The middle of your book, when readers have had a chance to get to know your main characters but still have a long way to go before the story’s end, is a perfect place to introduce someone new.
Keep stakes and motivations clear.
One of the biggest contributors to saggy, wandering middles is lack of clarity. As you introduce new characters, subplots, and general complexity to your book, maintain a laser focus on the bigger story you want to tell. Keep those middle scenes relevant. Readers can easily lose sight of character motivations and stakes — not to mention your central plot — during a meandering middle. Don’t let them forget why they’re reading.