Friday, March 11, 2011


No, I don't mean belly fat, I'm referring to the middle of a story or novel. How many times have you read a book and loved the first few chapters, only to grow bored with the plot? The first chapter informs us that the protagonist has a specific goal or problem and yet, halfway through the book, the writer uses inessential details and drags the plot to an early grave.

I find the middle of a story is the most difficult part to write. The beginning introduces the characters and their problems and the ending ties everything together, but middles can get saggy or worse, boring.

Every scene needs tension or conflict. It must raise a question or advance the protagonist towards a goal. If a scene doesn't advance the plot or deepen characterization, it's just filler.

Open each scene with a hook and end it with a dilemma. Stretch tension by slowing a scene down. Use setting to increase tension. Suppose your main character is fishing in a small boat that runs out of fuel. Add a thunderstorm and you've escalated the tension.

Don't forget to use emotional and physical tension such as anger, fear, jealousy, illness or injury.

Raise the stakes by putting the protagonist in the middle of a conflict where he/she must make a difficult decision.

Here are a few tricks to writing a more creative scene:

Leave out a crucial detail or introduce a red herring to keep the reader guessing. Every mystery writer uses these techniques.

Tell things out of order. This could include a flashback or simply moving time back and forth to show what each character is doing.

Let the reader know what is going to happen before the main character finds out. For example, someone expecting a huge inheritance buys an expensive item, but the next scene shows the lawyer reviewing a will that disinherits the protagonist.

End the scene in the middle of a dilemma, disaster or introduce an unexpected development.

Now for the fun part--pull out an old manuscript and review a couple of scenes, using some of the tips listed above.

Let's make a pact to keep saggy middles out of our work.



  1. Succinctly put Cynthia!

    What I find works for me in keeping the middle humming is to withold information from the reader, and like you said above, misdirect, and feed 'em misinformation. When do you reveal crucial info? Only when the advancement of the plot demands it (and not a moment before).

    Thanks for the share.

  2. comment from Jeff
    Hi Cynthia, thanks for the food for thought. I haven't been paying much attention to the technique of writing as far as the structure and some of the tips you touched on. When I go back to re-write certain sections, I'd like to read them with some of those tips in mind.