How to Fix Your Sagging Middle
Thank you for having me here today!
So you’ve written this story with an epic beginning, a killer end, but the middle–ugh! No matter what you do, you can’t seem to fix the saggy, boring, drawn-out middle.
Here are a few quick tips to whip that middle into a gem.
First, we have to diagnose the issue. Often middles suffer from one of these:
1. Passive character action
2. Lack of focus on plot
3. Where did the tension go?
Correcting character passivity:
Characters need to change and grow in a novel. It’s a known truth. Otherwise, we end up with “cardboard” characters, and who wants to hang out with them? I mean, they can’t even talk back to you!
The protagonist needs to be changing and challenged by everything that comes their way. No one wants to read about someone smoothly sailing over their challenges.
A big issue I run across is a character who is merely reacting to everything that’s happening rather than actively seeking after their goals. It’s fine for a character to react to their world, but when you hit the 50% point of a book, that HAS to change. This is the point at which the character has been pushed and shoved and won’t take it no more! From this moment on they must actively go after what they need–whether that be a relationship, independence, power, wealth, revenge, justice, or peace. (And if your character doesn’t BREAK, maybe that’s the issue?)
Focusing the Plot:
But your character does change and grow and pursues their goals. What is wrong?
Have you looked at the plot? A dynamic plot has a strong beginning, a dramatic turn around at the middle, and a powerful end, but that’s not all. The middle of that plot should contain no less than 3 (and preferably more like 6) plot points that DRIVE us toward a need for resolution. Try creating a plot chart where you actually measure where your action falls. I’m serious here–an actual graph. Estimate the tension for each plot point along the way on a scale from one to ten. (This means you have to clearly identify the turning points in the manuscript–any time something happens that motivates major change.)
Every time you hit a plot point, you’re going to go from a negative to a positive motivation, or the reverse. Technically, every chapter should be balanced by a negative to positive (or the reverse). This is one way to get to the next issue…
Where did the tension go?
|Image from Getty Images
There was a point at which I started chanting “tension all the time” while writing. There must be a juicy carrot–a mystery or desire hanging in front of the readers face to keep them moving forward. What question do you want readers asking in each chapter? What feeling do you want them to experience at the end of each chapter? Don’t leave it to chance. Actually, ask yourself these question and answer them–then implement the answer if it doesn’t already exist. Keep a mystery/need in front of the characters, and only let your readers relax about once every 60 pages. Keep them worried. Keep them hopeful. Keep them wondering.
In the end, middles only sag if we don’t build the proper structure beneath them. Go forth and support! You’ve got this.
What advice do you give for sagging middles? Have you been able to fix a book from the middle?