Write the Sag out of your Middle

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You’ve dazzled us with the beginning of your novel. You’ve got a solid idea as to where you want to end up. However, you’ve got a middle that is lackluster, and sad trombones announce it’s presence every time you sit down to write. Newsflash–you’ve got a sagging middle.

Fear not.

Here are five tips to help Botox the middle of your novel back into vivacious firmness.

1. Work backward – skip the middle, write the ending.

If writing the middle strikes dread into your heart every time you sit down to write, stop doing it. That’s right, let that shitake go. Give yourself a little bit of a writing break and then come back and write your ending. No one says you have to write in order. It’s not a rule. And furthermore, no one says you have to keep the ending you write. You might write multiple endings and that’s not a bad problem to have.

Writing the ending will give you a much needed clear head and a solid direction. Hopefully, during this exercise, you’ll have gained some insight into your end goal and this will give writing the middle a little more purpose and direction.

2. Have a mini-climax party.

Now that you have a viable working ending, (side note: this should be a climactic ending …) the middle is a perfect place to insert a less dramatic climax. Think of the opportunity for power here. You get to work your readers into a froth by injecting tension, drama, and the anticipation of the final ending while still promising more to come in future chapters. All this by placing a mini-climax in the middle.

3. Introduce minor characters like viruses.

Be careful with this one. The minor characters you introduce halfway into your story need to have a clear purpose. If they don’t further the plot, they’re just fluffy junk food that does nothing for your readers. This is a fantastic opportunity for you to invoke the cardinal law of good writing–thou shall show, not tell.

By bringing in a new character, you have the opportunity to demonstrate something integral about your protagonist. Think of yourself as a scientist. Your novel is a petri dish. The main character is a single-cell organism swimming around happily. Now, introduce a variable (i.e. a minor character) and watch what happens. What does the single-cell organism do when another organism is introduced? What happens if you drop in a virus, otherwise known as an annoying sibling, which tweaks the single-cell organism into making bad choices?

4. Throw in subplots to irritate your protagonist.

This is yet another trope of writing–kill your darlings. In this case, you don’t have to kill them. Well, you could, or you could irritate the crap out of them. It’s your job as a writer to make your main character struggle.

The middle is a great place for a side adventure, as long as it furthers the main plot. Does your main character need a clue or a direction-boost to get to the end? This is the perfect opportunity to divert off the beaten path and find out something new that will help them with their quest and/or final resolution.

Think of The Hobbit. Bilbo never could have bested Smaug without finding the ring, and he never would have found the ring if the dwarves hadn’t taken that short-cut through the mountain. Etcetera, etcetera. All the subplots were diversionary building blocks making their way to the finale.    

5. Always keep your compass pointed North.

Whatever you choose to put in your middle, it can’t be said enough–make sure you stick to the mission/goal of your novel. All roads must lead to the end, so if you write something and it goes nowhere, pull it out. This is not an opportunity to place some witty conversation that you and your friend had once that was just hilarious and wouldn’t that be great in my book? Unless the witty conversation furthers your plot, save that dialogue for something else or you risk creating the sad sagging middle.


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About Author

Heather Rigney is a fiction writer, blogger, journalist, and art teacher based in Rhode Island. Author of The Merrow Trilogy--a dark, historical fantasy novel that deals with homicidal mermaids, the colonial suppression of women, and a present-day alcoholic funeral director trying to make sense of it all. Her writing has been featured in Motif Magazine and Stone Crowns Magazine. By day she teaches art at an all-girls Quaker school and at night she tries to be creative while avoiding too many sweets. You can read more about Ms. Rigney on her website: www.heatherrigney.com


    • Heather Rigney on

      Dear Callie,

      I’m glad the article helps you get to your end goal. Remember that you are awesome for writing your story. Lots of people say they want to write and never do it. You’re doing it!
      Best of luck with your project,

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