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The Muddle of the Middle

by Ana Howard

We’ve all read novels that start and end wonderfully. But somewhere in the middle, the novel seems to lose momentum. Our challenge as writers is to maintain the same level of tension, developments, and character building in the middle of our manuscripts as what we have created in our openings and endings. This is not to say that a strong opening and ending are not essential; they are. But we must also focus on what lies in between. To avoid losing the reader during the middle of your novel, consider the following:

1. Make sure that each scene, each snippet of dialogue, and each segment of internal dialogue advances your story and/or character development. Ask yourself what has changed and if the scene is necessary. For example, if, in your scene, the characters are discussing what has already happened or is going to happen, it’s probably not needed. If anything you’ve written feels like filler in between more important developments, cut it.

2. Raise the stakes. If your novel is slowing down in the middle, play a game of “What if?” with yourself. For each development, think about ramping up the tension and threats to your characters’ goals, lives and/or happiness. For example, if you’ve written a scene that involves a family discussion, make sure someone interrupts, throws barbs, withdraws unexpectedly, breaks down, cries, etc. Add complications to any scenes that feel “quiet.”

3. Throw in a twist. Sit back and think of ways to surprise the reader. This could come in the form of a new character and/or relationship, a development that makes your character or characters see things in a different light, an unexpected change of setting, or a dramatic revelation. For example, if your novel involves a journey, let that journey go awry, change course, expand its purpose, end unexpectedly, etc. Let your imagination run wild. Avoid any developments that feel predictable.

If you’re still struggling with how to make your middle more enticing, write something anyway. Ernest Hemingway is famous for having said the first draft of a book is always awful. Get some words on the page, and come back to them later with fresh eyes.

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