Have you been writing a short story, novel, etc. and got to the middle and thought to yourself ‘what the hell did I get myself in to?’ Most of us, when we come up with an idea for a story, have that great hook of a beginning or that fantastic twist ending in mind. However, the middle of your book has less forethought and thus tends to drag us down into the depths of frustration and depression. How do you beat that sagging middle syndrome? Well, below are some helpful tips on how to do just that. The dreaded middle can become an obstacle for a lot of us, and there are some simple ways to remedy that.

            The midpoint of your book can become an exciting adventure for both the writer and the reader if you merely follow a few pointers and write your way to the end. With these tips, you can craft the sag right out of your middle and add some extra oomph to your novel along the way. Now, I’m not saying it’s going to be an easy task to accomplish but writing a story isn’t supposed to be easy—is it? Below is a video full of helpful information on writing your way through the middle as well. I hope you enjoy and use what you learn to sell more books😉

Writing the middle of a novel: 9 tips to keep moving

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Writing the middle of a novel has its own unique challenges. You need to develop your story further after your engrossing start and set in place the path to the end. The curse of the ‘sagging middle’ can’t take hold. Here are 9 tips for writing a middle that keeps your story moving:

1: Change locations for new developments and challenges

2: Use the middle to raise uncertainty about your characters’ goals

3: Increase plot complications and character obstacles

4: Create subplots that add interest to your main story arc

5: Introduce interesting minor characters

6: Stay focused on your characters’ end-goals

7: Build to a smaller peak

8: Shorten the middle and move to the resolution sooner

9: Read the middle chapters of favorite books and take notes on elements such as plot development and setting

Let’s examine these points a little closer:

1: Change locations for new developments and challenges

The 5 w’s of story – where, what, why, who and when – can all change to create variety and interest. None of these elements must change. The characters in your novel or your setting could remain fairly constant. Yet change opens up possibilities for new developments and intriguing new scenarios. These keep your novel exciting and interesting.

There are many examples from literature of changes in location that help to create interesting story middles.

In Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, the protagonist Pip moves from his home village in Kent to the great city of London, upon receiving wealth from a mystery benefactor. This change of location underscores Pip’s increase in status. It also introduces interesting new settings and characters, as Dickens moves from describing village to city life.

In David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, each section of the book changes location, from the Chatham Islands just off New Zealand to a futuristic imaginary state in Korea. The central section of the book, however, is set in a post-apocalyptic society. The setting of this section is gradually revealed, as we piece together clues from narration and dialogue about its history.

Through the change in both aspects of setting – time and place –  Mitchell adds mystery. The middle considerably expands the many unknowns of the story wanting resolution.

To avoid your story stagnating in a single location, try shifting somewhere new – another town or country, from the city to the countryside or vice versa. Make sure any change of setting makes sense in relation to the preceding plot.

2: Use the middle to raise uncertainty about your characters’ goals

In the first third of your novel, you introduce pivotal characters and their goals. For example, in Tokien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, it’s quickly established that the protagonist Frodo must go on a quest. He’s tasked with taking an inherited artifact, the powerful One Ring, away from his homeland, The Shire. Yet towards the middle of the book, tension mounts. Frodo faces the novel’s antagonist’s henchmen, treacherous terrain and more.

Using the middle to increase uncertainty about characters’ outcomes applies for diverse genres. In a romance, the middle is often where two characters pull (or are driven) apart.

In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, for example, the protagonist Elizabeth Bennett visits her friend Charlotte in Kent around the middle of the story. Lizzie is invited to the home of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who is incidentally also the aunt of her eventual love interest, Mr Darcy. There are misunderstandings between Elizabeth and Darcy, who proposes to her with unfortunate timing. He expresses doubts about the differences in status between their families, which in turn intensifies Elizabeth’s temporary dislike of Darcy.

As Austen does, use the middle of your novel to make the likeliest outcome encounter new complications.


How do you raise uncertainty? By increasing obstacles:

3: Increase plot complications and character obstacles

When writing the middle of a novel, use a turn of events or sudden setback to add dramatic tension and suspense. Readers become less certain characters will get the outcomes their opening chapters suggest.

Possible complications in the middle of a book include:

  • Misunderstandings between characters
  • Unexpected physical obstacles (e.g. in a quest fantasy, finding a planned route impassable)
  • Discoveries that change characters’ understandings or goals (for example, Elizabeth’s gradual realisation that Darcy is a finer person than she thought in Pride and Prejudice)

The ‘sagging middle syndrome’ in the middle of a book is often caused by insufficient development towards a climax. Obstacles and complications do some of this building by showing the twists and kinks in the path from A to B, in narrative cause and effect.

4: Create subplots that add interest to your main story arc

Subplots are useful for making your main story arc more interesting, especially in the middle of a novel. They can give characters the knowledge or skill they need to achieve an aim, for example:

In J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, for example, there are plenty of subplots within each novel. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the main arc involves Harry confronting what lies in the secret chamber of the title. In a subplot towards the middle of the novel, Harry and his friends venture into the Forbidden Forest that surrounds their magic school. They do this to understand why spiders are fleeing the school for the forest, following a series of deadly attacks on the school grounds.

They find an enormous spider in the forest named Aragog. The spider gives them vital clues to understanding what lies in the Chamber of Secrets.

Like Rowling’s subplots, the subplots in your novel in the middle should give characters what they need to progress further towards their goals. Harry and his friends can only stop the mysterious attacks by following another lead first. This first lead and its minor arc initially seem unrelated to the main story arc – the unsettling mass migration of spiders. There are thus multiple levels of narrative uncertainty and tension. Thus we need multiple answers.

5: Introduce interesting minor characters

Writing the middle is an opportunity to expand your cast of characters, breathing new life into your story.

In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, the protagonist’s mother and sister arrive in his city to meet the sister’s fiancé. The timing of the visit is abysmal, since the protagonist Raskolnikov has only recently committed a terrible crime. This character introduction produces high tension and suspense, as the reader wonders whether Raskolnikov will crack under the pressure of having to engage with his close family members under his changed circumstances.

New characters can thus introduce additional suspense and tension. Minor characters can also possess knowledge or skills essential to your characters’ progress towards their goals, as the giant spider Aragog does for Harry and his friends in the previous example.

Bringing in new characters in the middle of your book will enable new dynamics and possible complications between characters to emerge.

6: Stay focused on your characters’ end-goals

One cause for a mushy middle in a novel is the sense of direction and purpose disappearing. Often beginning authors in particular will add scenes to the middle that show relationships between characters but don’t suggest how these relationships are relevant to broader story arcs.

The crucial task in the middle of your novel is to connect. If your main character heads out to see friends and they engage in fun dialogue and banter, relate this dialogue and banter to approaching scenes and developments in your story.

7: Build to a smaller peak

A ‘false’ climax in the middle of a story (as Chuck Wendig suggests) is effective for creating momentum. If there is a grand conflict between hero and villain in a fantasy novel, for example, consider a smaller conflict with one of the villain’s lackeys around the middle of your book. Or else your main character could squabble with a companion or close acquaintance. Conflicts relevant to characters’ core challenges will maintain cohesion or unity of effect while adding tension.

Make sure your first climax leaves the reader saying ‘if that was just the first climax, I can’t imagine how epic the final one will be’. Then make sure the final climax of your book fulfills that promise.


8: Cut down the middle and move to the resolution sooner

Another reason why some books feel directionless in the middle is that authors spend long on the middle while developing the story.

The middle section of your book, however, can be as short as a few chapters.

If it feels that the middle of your book drags and loses pace, don’t be afraid to trim it down so that your story flows better to its ultimate conclusion. If you introduce subplots in the middle ask yourself, ‘How does this propel the story further? How will this scene further my story’s sense of cause and effect?’

9: Read the middle chapters of favorite books and take notes on elements such as plot development and setting

Take notes on the middle chapters of favourite novels and how successful authors keep their middles moving.

Note how your favourite books maintain suspense and tension, introduce new characters, develop the motivations and goals introduced in the opening chapters, and start moving towards the end.

The examples above from Dickens, Austen, J.K. Rowling and others show how famous authors can inspire better story middles.

Original Article:




Clowns to the Left, Jokers to the Right: What to Do When You’re Stuck in the Middle of Your Novel

By: Jess Zafarris

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At the Writer’s Digest Novel Writing Conference last month, Gabriela Pereira—speaker, podcaster, and author-extraordinaire of DIY MFA—presented an information-packed, eight-hour boot camp on planning, writing and revising your novel. Her seven-step system is a great way to take your work from nothing to publication (and you can read about it in her book if you missed the boot camp).

According to DIY MFA, a novel’s story structure is comprised of three acts and two decision points that allow your protagonist to determine how the story plays out from those two points. One segment of the boot camp that I found particularly helpful was her section on “Muddling Through the Middle”—that is, keeping up your pacing, action and story while you’re writing Act Two of your next great novel. It’s a particularly tough area in which many novelists get stuck writing, either because they’re not sure how to flesh out the middle or because they’ve simply reached a lull in the action. This can derail your productivity—or your NaNoWriMo attempt—unless you work through it. As Pereira writes:

If you find yourself getting stuck in the middle, ask yourself, “What is the premise of my story?” The premise is the underlying concept that drives your story. … Some genres have “rules” surrounding the premise—mystery requires a crime, romance requires a love story—but the author can bend or blur these rules to her advantage. Don’t think of story structure as a series of check boxes on a list; formulas can be confining. Instead, look under the hood and tease apart the power struggle or conflict that drives your story.

Therefore, I’ve selected some of Pereira’s tips from her book and the boot camp for ensuring that the middle of your novel is just as engaging as the climax, and that you won’t get stuck writing it.

What to Do When You’re Stuck Writing the Middle of Your Novel

  1. Give your supporting cast more page time.

One particular area for development is the depth of the supporting cast. You love your protagonist, and the overall story arc focuses on her, but Act Two is a great area to flesh out the characters who help her along (or hinder her) on her journey, as well as any potential subplots they’re involved in. “In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, we meet all of Harry’s professors and classmates in Act Two,” Pereira writes. “In The Hunger Games we get to know Peeta, Rue, and the other tributes participating in the Games. In Pride and Prejudice we meet Wickham and the militia, as well as Mr. Collins, Lady Catherine, and Georgiana Darcy. Act One introduces your protagonist, but it’s in Act Two that the supporting cast comes to life.”

Pereira also advises using surrogates to advance your hero’s journey. She pointed out that in The Hunger Games, Rue serves as a surrogate for Katniss’ younger sister during the games. And for an additional example:

The works of William Shakespeare are filled with surrogate supporting characters. In King Lear, for example, the fool archetype is played by a character named the Fool as well as by Lear’s favorite daughter, Cordelia. Just as the Fool tells King Lear the things he does not want to hear, so, too, does Cordelia when she speaks the difficult truth to her father. In fact—and here’s where things get interesting—the characters of Cordelia and the Fool never appear in the same scene, and in early performances of King Lear the same actor often played both roles.

  1. Use the rule of three to move your story forward and give it momentum.

The rule of three is everywhere—in stories, books, movies, TV shows, parables, advertisements, and anywhere else you find even the briefest narrative structure. Three bears, three trials, three inconceivable kidnappers, three wise kings, three tips in this article.

Why is the number three so common? “The number three gives us a feeling of completeness,” Pereira explains. “Two is not enough to establish a pattern, and four feels like too many. Three is just the right balance. It sets up a pattern but allows room for a twist in the third repetition.”

The rule of three can be added to your own story in myriad ways: Your protagonist can meet three new minor characters, or endure three challenges, or go on three dates with three potential lovers. The hero may fail in the first two, or all, of these instances—perhaps learning valuable lessons along the way, of course—but eventually she’ll succeed. (In most cases, that is. A clever writer can subvert this trope in interesting and creative ways.) Pereira offers Pride and Prejudice, which contains more than one instance of adventures in triplicate, as an example: Elizabeth Bennet navigates through three separate courtships (with Mr. Collins, Mr. Wickham and Mr. Darcy) that all initially fall apart before Mr. Darcy’s letter reveals his own character and Mr. Wickham’s villainy, earning Elizabeth’s respect and romantic interest.

  1. Use the midpoint to focus your story.

The midpoint of your novel is a landmark moment in which your protagonist reaches a turning point that carries her to the climax and conclusion of the story. According to Pereira: “As with all of the significant landmarks in your story, the midpoint has two sides: the external event and the character’s internal response to that event.”

It is your character’s response that informs her decisions throughout the rest of the novel. Pereira notes that the midpoint need not be precisely in the middle of the novel, but that it must occur after the “point of no return”—the moment at which things will never be the same again for your character—and before the major decision point at the end of Act Two.

You can use the midpoint to make the end of the novel a reflection of the beginning, or you can use it to raise the stakes and propel the story toward the transition into the third act. These goals can be achieved either through temporary triumph (in which it appears the protagonist has achieved what she wants) or false failure (in which it feels as if thing couldn’t possibly get worse for the protagonist—and then they do).

“Though they might seem opposite, the temporary triumph and the false failure share a common thread: In both cases, the external events lead to an internal moment where the protagonist must decide how she feels about the person she has become,” Pereira writes. “This introspection may be a complete turning point where the protagonist reconsiders every aspect of her personality … [or] a slight shift. … As with any aspect of a good story, the external events need to reflect and contribute to the internal journey that eventually makes the protagonist grow and change.”

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