Novel Middles: From Sag to Super

When writing your novel’s middle, do you feel discouraged? Stuck? Wondering why you thought this story would work? You’re not alone. Even accomplished novelists often struggle to connect a brilliant beginning to a satisfying end.
Writing Tip for Today: The first and third acts of your story will be shorter than this yawning abyss called “the middle.” How can you help keep your readers turning pages throughout Act Two?

  • Create a Worthy Goal. If your MC (Main Character) has rather fuzzy goals, especially psychological or inner goals (revenge, to live, safety), give her an external goal. This means something tangible, such as a job, reunion with someone they lost, finding a killer. It’s not enough to create a bunch of inner problems, because readers want to feel certain the MC is more than a navel-gazing, self-absorbed person. By balancing the inner problems with outer or tangible wants/needs, readers are more likely to follow the MC even when the going gets tough. Readers demand your MC do more than sit and think.
  • Follow Loch Ness Subplots. Story Layering is all about creating a complex (and thus, real) character. In life we don’t usually get handed one obstacle at a time. When it rains, it pours. By creating a couple of subplots (complete stories that can run parallel to the main goal), you will be able to bridge that long Act Two gap. Think of your subplots like the Loch Ness monster. The bumps in Nessie’s neck surface at intervals, and your subplots do the same. They take center stage only long enough to advance and then they submerge again to let the main story go forward. Two subplots is usually plenty for first novels.
  • Lean Toward Scenes. Most scenes contain dialogue, and good dialogue can add tension and keep readers reading. Avoid relying on narrative to move your story in the middle, but also give your characters worthy dialogue. As novelist and teacher Rachel Hauck wisely recommends, “Tell the story between the quotes.” This doesn’t mean you resort to talking heads or idle chit-chat. And it isn’t a call to information load either. Instead, let the characters explode at each other, cry or kiss and make up. By using scenes rather than narrative and dialogue rather than prose for important info, you can get readers in their guts–where emotion lives and reigns.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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