Revisiting the Middle

Thanks to my fellow TKZ blog mate, Larry Brooks, who provided me with his ebook ‘Stuck in the Middle: Mid-Draft Saves for your Story‘, I thought we should revisit the saggy middle and look specifically at some great questions to ask before addressing the dreaded mid-draft slump.

Larry outlines some key issues that I think all authors should consider when they are mid-way through their draft novel. He poses these as a series of questions that highlight some of the critical issues that can plague a book and which can lead to a slump in the middle. I encourage TKZers to check out the ebook which goes into greater depth that my blog summary, but in the meantime, here are some of the key questions Larry raises (hopefully I’m not misquoting Larry here with my summary version!)

  1. First off, authors should take a step back and ask themselves whether the premise of the book itself is sufficiently strong to sustain a reader’s interest for an entire book – often times the premise is simply too weak dramatically, either because there isn’t enough of a dramatic arc to the book, or because the key characters don’t have enough to achieve/do for a reader to root for them.
  2. Second, an author should also check that their core story is sufficiently well defined. Is there a compelling dramatic question being asked and answered in the book? Often the middle sags simply because it doesn’t enhance or advance the overall dramatic arc of the story.
  3. Do you have sufficient plot points that keep the story moving along, providing sufficient tension to engage the reader throughout the book? Sometimes the middle drifts because the plot points to the story haven’t been spaced or placed appropriately.

As Larry points our the middle chapters of a book should continue to ‘elevate, escalate and surprise’. They should also provide a critical transition between plot points as the key characters move through the overall story arc.

Hopefully, I haven’t misquoted Larry’s key questions to much, but I encourage all writers to step back and consider these kind of issues when diagnosing what isn’t working in their own work. All too often we focus on the mechanics rather that the overarching questions of premise, core story and plot that need to be addressed to ‘fix’ the problem.

17 thoughts on “Revisiting the Middle

  1. I’m in the midst of revision myself. For me, it’s not so much a saggy middle as the story doesn’t really start reading at a good clip until on or just before midpoint. Still, I’m looking at the middle of my story and working backwards to do the revisions.

    P.S. Thanks for mentioning the book “Wonder” by Palacio. I finished reading that last week. While it’s not my typical fare I really enjoyed it.

    • Hey BK – take a look at your opening quartile and first plot point… when a book doesn’t “start reading at a good clip until the middle” that’s often a sign that the setup consumes too many pages, and that the First Plot Point is either late or weak. Only you can assess these things… hope this helps. Larry

  2. Alas, for some of us, it’s not just the middle of our drafts that’re saggy ~ 🙂

    I find myself starting most days’ writing with the first two questions~ do I have enough there there with which to continue… Sometimes it’s my “Inner Critic” trying to talk me out of what I’m doing, other times it’s my “Inner Coach” reminding me keep focused and give it one one rep~

  3. The middle really does suck. I get there, get stuck, and end up rewriting the beginning, only to get stuck again halfway through the middle. It’s like getting stuck in a snowdrift. Forward…backward. Forward…backward. Inching forward just enough to get you excited, until you hit the ice underneath and go nowhere.

    I need a plot tow truck.

  4. Important information, Scott. I really believe in Larry’s format. What I also value is your chapter on the middle moment. The shift in the middle doesn’t have to occur with an explosion. It can also be a quiet awakening or an internal bang in the brain.

  5. Thanks to Claire for giving this some airtime here on KZ. The middle is a common hurdle for so many stories, and its good to know there are tools available to us. As there are for virtually all of the steps and milestones along the novel development path.

    As a point of interest, my ebook on this topic began as a feature article for Writers Digest Magazine, reprinted in their 2014 “Tips for Novelists” special edition.

    Speaking of tools, our own Jim Bell has a great book on “middles” as well (hugely successful, as is all his stuff is, with 430 Amazon reviews thus far):

    I often say, put Jim’s stuff and my stuff in a blender, mix well, and the value may exceed the sum of the parts.

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