Keeping the Middle Moving––Part I

You’ve heard of it––in more than one way. That awful, sagging, middle. In fiction, a sagging middle will bog down your story. Click to Tweet The reader may decide to stop reading. Not what you want. #keepmiddlemoving #amwriting

The best way to insure the middle of your story moves forward is to continually introduce more conflict. We’ve talked a bit about conflict before, but we’re going to go deeper in this short series. You already know that it is conflict which drives your story. This is especially important for the middle, where details tend to slow the action, and the characters tend to stagnate.

Now that we recognize the problem, let’s begin to look at the solutions. If you’ve mapped your story well, your protagonist has already passed through the first doorway of no return. They’ve made a critical decision, and should have already encountered difficulty.

Conflict means to battle, fight, war, skirmish, or struggle.

I like Randy Ingermanson’s “formula” for a story. Three disasters and an ending. Basically, three or four main events. The first disaster could be called the opening disturbance. Something happens to force the protagonist to move beyond his/her present circumstances.

The second disaster could be part of your solution to a drooping middle. When I wrote my novel, Meghan’s Choice, I put a natural disaster in the middle. That greatly helped keep my story moving, and Meghan made an important decision during that time. Also, another character, Rosalie, (who becomes Rose) is the protagonist in the second novel. She also made a critical choice, one that will be tested in the next book.

With action and reaction, raise the stakes. Even pantsers can “plan” something for that next scene to keep things moving. That’s what I do. I’m kind of half-plotter (I have to know where the story is going, but not all the things along the way), and half-pantser (sometimes the most astounding things just “come out” while writing).

One thing to always keep in mind: the protagonist has a goal, an objective. Conflict, whether natural, manmade, or accident, keeps the protagonist moving along in the story until the final climax, where the character finally obtains, in one way or another, their goal.

Two basic things to remember: 1) a novel is a record of how a character deals with imminent death. Now, I believe it doesn’t have to be literal death, although in suspense stories, it would be. But it can mean death to dreams, death to the way of life they’re used to, etc. And it can mean physical danger of literal death. 2) What action will the character take to prevent death, whether literal or figurtively? How can reaction elements to a scene help drive the action elements? The character makes a decision, usually toward the end of a scene, that drives the story to the next scene. Some people call this scene and sequel.

Scene by scene, you’ll want to raise the stakes for your protagonist and that’s what keeps the story moving. Click to Tweet #amwriting #keepmiddlemoving

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