Wednesday, 13 June 2012

How To Stop The Middle Of Your Novel From Sagging.

Does this sound familiar?

Your novel opens with a scene that grips the reader by the shoulders and pulls them face first into the story. But then, around 40,000 words or so, things slow down. The story starts to drift along, bobbing aimlessly on meaningless dialogue. You can see the ending far on the horizon, but you're not sure how to reach it.

SOS is right, brother.
photo credit,

If this rings true for you, you may be suffering from SMS or Sagging Middle Syndrome. Stop looking down at your stomach—I was talking about your story.

The middle is often the most challenging. It has to bridge the awesome beginning and the spectacular climax. It. Can't. Be. Boring.

The middle shouldn't remind me of this.
photo credit,

Here are some tips to help you chart a course through the current, back to the white-water, river raft ride.

Raise the stakes. Make your protagonist's original crisis more complicated.

In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Harry's original goal was to survive Hogwarts (especially Potions class with that horrible Professor Snape) and prove he really belonged there. However, once we reach the middle of the book, Harry discovers the school is hiding The Philosopher's Stone and thinks Professor Snape is trying to steal it.

New Event. This should send your protagonist in the opposite direction of his original goal.

When Harry finds the Mirror of Erised, he forgets about Snape and the stone, and becomes consumed by images of his late parents.

Bring the Subplot to the Forefront. Use information from early chapters to throw another complication into the protagonist's way.

Hello, Norbert. Early in the book, Hagrid mentions always wanting a dragon. He tells a shocked Harry that he bought him in a pub from a mysterious stranger. This sets up two events. Firstly, Harry and Hermoine are caught with the dragon after hours and are given detention. Secondly, Hagrid ends up telling them information about a certain three-headed-dog they will need later in the lead up to the climax.

Unexpected Twist. Reveal just enough secrets to change the protagonist's course of action. This also creates more tension.

While Harry is in the forbidden forest as part of his earlier detention, he sees something drinking the dead unicorns blood. He is saved by Firenze who foreshadows Lord Voldemort's return to power. Now Harry believes Snape is planning to steal the stone not for his own immortality, but for The Dark Lord's instead.

This leads into the climax. Knowing none of the other professors will believe him, Harry takes matters into his owns hands when Dumbledore is suddenly summoned away from Hogwarts. With Ron and Hermoine following, he races to the trap door and...well you know the rest.

I hope these exercises will help you get the middle of your novel back in shape!

Do you have any suggestions for a taut, lean middle?



Marybeth said...

Really great post. That is always what I fear my novel will go through SMS. But all fine points you bring up!

Kelly Hashway said...

Great post! I love how you break this down. The middle of a novel is the place to introduce new twists or obstacles and bring back things mentioned earlier. It has to set up your climax and weave the story together.

Ashley Turcotte said...

Great post, Bethany. Loved the HP examples! :)

BR Myers said...

Thank, Marybeth. Fight the sagging!!

BR Myers said...

You make me sound smarter than I am. Thanks for commenting, Kelly.

BR Myers said...

Thanks, Ashley. HP is fantastic for so many reasons. I will never get tired of reading those books.

Clare said...

These are excellent tips, and something I'm going to keep in mind as a start editing the middle of my MS.

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