The Middle Needs Tightening: Your Story Is Sagging

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It’s always fun and relatively easy to start writing a new concept. You’ve got your shiny-new characters with bright smiles and hidden agendas. Then you’ve got a plot that (hopefully) ties everyone together in a way that’s both meaningful and thrilling. But then there’s a moment, usually around the half-way mark, when things get a little dicey. Maybe you’ve dropped a thread you started and can’t find your way back. Or you hit a big old brick wall in the middle. If your struggle is more in the motivation department, read this recent article HERE to get yourself un-stuck. But if it’s more story-related, then you’re in the right place. Sometimes, all it takes is a little ab-crunching and elbow grease to strengthen your concept.

Ask your characters what they want.

Sometimes, the answer you’ve been looking for has been wedged between your characters the whole time. The first step to getting them to cough it up is simply asking them to state their goals. Maybe your protagonist desperately wants to get the girl, but the antagonist keeps foiling his plans. Or maybe your characters are a lot simpler than that, and just really want a good piece of chocolate cake. But if that really is all they want, you may have just found your biggest problem – your characters lack motivation. If this is the case, your story will lose momentum fast because there’s nothing your characters are working toward. That’s an easy enough fix, but it will take some creative brainstorming.

Suggest something random to liven things up.

You can do this either seriously or as a joke, but I’d wager that even the most tongue-in-cheek additions can lead to amazing stories. For example, maybe your action and adventure story involves an irritating monkey smashing cymbals together inches from your character’s head. That’s much sillier than you might think would be applicable to the genre at hand, but hear me out. Maybe instead of a literal monkey, the concept develops until your characters find themselves in search of a lost tomb with a monkey’s head engraved on it. See? Now you’ve got a goofier Indiana Jones knock-off that you can run with through the messy middle.

Check for character consistency.

Are all your characters functioning the way you want them too? Or are some of them still flat? These are rudimentary questions – sure. But the middle of a book is a great place to check in with them. Are they all happy with their roles? Or is one fuming because you left them in the dust? Map out the levels of involvement you expect to have from each one. You should also check that all your details are consistent (or did someone’s eyes magically turn blue without reason?). Keeping a glossary of character stats is a great way to do this. Or, if you’re like me who needs a visual for designing characters, pick a celebrity to use as your visual model. For help with character chemistry, read this recent article HERE.

Ask peers if your story bores them.

It can be tough (if not straight-up impossible) to get honest feedback from family and friends, but it’s a good place to start. If you can, join author groups on Facebook for beta readers who can help you. For more on that, read this recent article HERE about finding author friends. But all things considered, if you hear that your reader is losing steam, ask them why. They might just say something that highlights a weakness you never even thought of. And with all feedback, a thick skin is crucial. Go into knowing that your story is already great – you’re just asking for help in the middle to make it even better!

Make sure your plot pieces all connect.

In the same way you checked to make sure you didn’t leave any characters behind, make sure your plot connects everything. That’s not to say that every single plot direction you introduce has to be carried all the way to the end. But if it doesn’t take your reader all the way to the end of the book, you’ve got to both have a good reason for it to stop and replace it with something else. The worst part of a sub-par book, in my opinion, is getting really excited about a certain plot point, just for it to drop off without warning or go in a totally different direction. So put yourself in your reader’s mind and think about what you might like to see happen in the middle and chase that.

If you use this as a checklist to help you diagnose the issue, I can say with reasonable confidence that you’ll be back on your A-game before you know it! What are you waiting for? Time to pump the iron and get jacked.

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