Monday, April 16, 2012

N is for Never Overlook Your Middles!


Have you ever heard the term, "saggy middles?"

If you're like many writers (including me) story middles are one of the more challenging things to write. It's great to have a fabulous beginning of your book, something that draws the reader right into your world, but how do you suspend the reader's attention throughout the middle of the story so they'll just have to get to the end?

One strategy I use is getting your reader to bond with your lead character, then they will be invested in the character and want to read the entire book. In past posts I've mentioned some key ways to do this: making the reader sympathize with your character, giving something the reader can relate to in your character, etc, etc.

In addition, I think it's important that the reader bonds with some of your other characters, in this way, readers will care about the subplots as well. For example, have you ever read a book where the main plot is really engaging, however, when the writer skips to the subplots it's like, "Come on, get on with it. I don't care about what happens to the lead character's friend. I just want to get to the real story."

An obvious way to make your readers want to read the middle of your book is to have conflict and tension in your scenes and a steady build of these as we approach the 'black moment' of your story. However, I would argue that characters and character relationships are the foundations for readers to care about your plot. I would also argue that even if you have the most brilliant plot, tension and conflict in the world but flat characters, then why should the reader care about what happens to them?

For example, I read a dystopian e-book about zombies a few weeks ago. I don't usually read about zombies but the plot in the book seemed promising. I found that the beginning of the book engaged me enough to want to read more, but when I got to the middle I was struggling. I did read to the end of the book because I like to give authors a chance to bring things together, however, after I finished I felt 'flat' and 'blah.'

Although there was plenty of conflict, tension and action, the characters were one-dimensional and I realized this was the issue. Had I really had an invested interest in these characters, the conflict and tension would have been that much more meaningful.

Story middles are not the easiest things to write, particularly the first time around in the first draft. I can attest to this. That's where editing comes in, refining and refining your work until it is the best you can make it.

What do you find to be the most challenging things to write in terms of a story?


  1. The most challenging is the first sentence, the first paragraph, the first page...because if the reader doesn't want to continue, my story stinks.

  2. First of all, hello fellow Canadian!

    I find that writing 'believability' can be a struggle. When one ventures out far with the story, he/she should keep in mind that a modicum of the aforementioned is in order, even in a fantasy novel.

    1. Hi there fellow Canadian to you as well! I agree with the struggle to make writing believable. Whenever I'm out of the moment (i.e. when my kids distract me) and I read back what I wrote during that time, it's like, "this is completely lame-o." ;)