Ever hear of the sagging middle? It’s when you get to that point in your novel that just seems to go on and on and on… yet nothing seems to be happening.
I think everyone, at some point or another, has a problem with the sagging middle. Even I, as an outliner, have trouble with it at times. Sometimes you don’t know where to go next in your outline or the outline changes so much that the middle gets deformed somehow.
In a way, it’s kind of like week two of NaNoWriMo. You end up in some sort of slump.
Either way, here are some tips to avoid that sagging middle. Or, at the very least, you can throw something in to keep the story going. There’s always editing later.
1. Make it short and sweet
Quality over quantity, right? Listen, if you get stuck in your middle, skip it. Don’t worry about it. If that bothers you, write anything there. If you have any thoughts, write it out and see how it goes.
This is what editing is for. I know editing typically takes words out, but there’s nothing wrong with adding something in. After all, you usually have multiple drafts of novels. You can add something in, take it out, add something else in just to take that out as well. You have to play around with it.
First drafts are supposed to be all over the place.
2. Question your protagonist’s or your antagonist’s goals
Everyone has second doubts. Everyone worries. Everyone regrets something at some point in their life. What has happened in your novel before the middle? Is there anything that you can use to make any of your characters have an internal conflict? Or maybe they can have tension with other characters?
Bring the antagonist around, have them run into the protagonist. What happens? How do they handle the situation?
3. Play with your characters
Introduce someone new. Have someone leave the group due to a fight or they have something else to take care of. Kill someone off, whether it’s an important character or a side character.
Anything can happen, especially if tension is high.
4. Change location or POV
Where are your characters and what are they doing? Did they finish what they needed to do? Let them leave. Have something else happen and they need to move on as soon as possible.
Changing POV is harder, of course. Unless you’re writing in that kind of style where you switch POV characters for each chapter or some other way. Still, you might be able to make it work somehow. You just have to be careful with it.
5. Throw a curve ball at your characters
This is the point of novel writing. You’re supposed to constantly throw lemons at your characters, especially your protagonist.
Depending on the situation you put before your characters, anything can happen. Something as simple as changing the weather can throw your characters off.
6. Start writing in the middle
Are you nervous about your middle sagging before you even start? Start in the middle. Throw your characters into something that you think may help get your novel to the end and go with it. This may be easier to do if you have an outline in mind, but it’s doable either way.
At the very least, you may get to know your characters a little better. You’ll figure out what you want the plot to accomplish.
7. Throw in a red herring
Red herrings are fun. They’re fake clues handed out for the mere sake of throwing your characters (and your readers) off the trail. Send your characters on a wild goose chase. As long as it leads to something else that will advance the plot or bring tension, it’s a great way to keep those pages turning.