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Focusing on the Middle of Your Novel

Many writers worry about developing the middle of their novel or they simply lose motivation when they start thinking about what to write about. Even if you know the beginning and end of your novel, it can be difficult to connect the two and build an exciting plot inbetween. The best way to begin tackling this issue is to understand pacing and how your novel should be structured.

The basic structure is as follows:

Stasis

This includes the introduction, the description of the everyday life of your main character, and an explanation of your world. During this time you can focus on showing your audience what your world is like and how your characters interact with it on a daily basis. You can start to set things up.

Inciting Incident

This is your protagonist’s call-to-action. What forces your character to change their usual behavior? This is when your character decides to get in the action OR they are forced to get in on the action. I’ve written a longer post about this here.

The Quest

There’s something your protagonist needs to do or there’s a journey they must embark on. This doesn’t always mean an actual physical journey; it can be an emotional one depending on your story. The point is that they must set out to learn something as a result of the inciting incident. There’s some knowledge, item, etc. they must acquire.

Surprise

There should be obstacles, problems, trouble, conflict, etc. for your protagonist. This will make up most of the middle of your novel. What stands in your character’s way? What is preventing them from finishing their quest and returning to normal?

Critical Choice

What your character has learned or how they have developed over the course of your novel is often revealed during the critical choice. They should have to choose between two paths and their choices should reveal something about them. These choices will change the course of the novel.

Climax

This is the highest point of tension in your story, when your character has to deal with the critical choice they have made. Your story generally builds up to this point.

Reversal

The reversal is a result of the critical choice and the climax. The story is lead in a new direction because of these things. The events leading up to the climax begin to cool down and something happens that helps lead to the resolution. This is usually when your protagonist reverses the situation and finds a way out of the problem (or doesn’t).

Resolution

The resolution should lead into a new stasis for your characters. This doesn’t mean that everything ends up good for your characters; it just means that things have come full circle in a way. The story arc for his particular story is closed and lessons have been learned.

Once you begin to understand the structure of a story, you can begin focusing on the middle chunks of your novel, specifically the inciting incident-reversal stages. 

Here are a few tips to prevent your novel from failing in the middle:

Keep plotting and brainstorming

Planning is really the key to many writing problems. If you have no idea where you’re going to go after the first chapter, you haven’t taken enough time to develop your initial idea. Take the extra time to plan what happens after your hook. What are some exciting scenes you want to tackle along the way? It helps to focus on the antagonist and how they plan on stopping your main character. Whenever you’re stuck, try a brainstorming session. Come up with more ideas that excite you and make you want to write.

Focus on each character’s journey

Each of your characters will have different wants and motivations, even if they sometimes overlap. In order to flesh out your novel, try focusing on each character’s journey. You have a main character, but secondary characters also need to be planned out. That could be where your story is lacking and why you don’t know where to go next. You protagonist needs to interact with all your characters and draw from their own development.

Add tension

The middle of your novel needs tension. It needs moments where something bad happens, even if we’re not at the climax yet. We need the story to rise and fall and we need to keep being surprised. I’m not saying your story needs to be full of twists and turns, but we need something to keep us interested in your character’s story. Basically, we need to see your characters fail. Your story will be boring if you don’t add scenes of your characters NOT getting what they want. Show us the tension.

Think of your novel in chunks

It’s best to think of your novel in parts. Use the plot structure to shape your novel, but tackle each chunk independently. This will help you with pacing and it will help you develop important scenes in the middle of your novel. Your novel isn’t just from point A to point B, there needs to be several stops along the way.

Depending on your novel, the structure might change, but these are general guidelines you should be familiar with. Sagging Middle Syndrome comes from a lack of planning, so outline if you’re having trouble.

-Kris Noel

*sorry for my overuse of the word “chunks”. I like it.


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