Sagging Middle Syndrome: are you a victim?

We’ve all been there, and I don’t mean that rapidly expanding rear end through far too much sitting and writing (and eating snacks, let’s be honest) and not enough exercise. I mean that space between the opening of our novel and its climax, when we run out of steam.


We’ve written a thrilling start and we’ve plotted an equally exciting ending. But we’ve forgotten something important. We didn’t plan the bit in between. Sure, we have a vague idea of who’s going to do what to whom, and what’s going to happen when our hero discovers that his wife’s been cheating on him for years with the next door neighbour, but that isn’t a story in itself. We find ourselves creating weak subplots and unbelievable characters that don’t hold our readers’ interest and which have no connection to the rest of the story. Our novel begins to sag.

Fortunately, there is a cure; saggy middles can be mended or even prevented:

  • All novels are journeys. Plan your hero’s adventures so they fill the middle, not as padding, but as a significant and believable part of the plot.
  • Don’t look back. This is not the time to start a major rewrite. What happens in the middle may have repercussions throughout the novel, but let the action play out to its conclusion before reviewing the beginning, otherwise you’ll never get it finished.
  • Have some idea of where you want your characters to go and how you plan to get them there. Lack of planning is what got us here in the first place, remember?
  • Subplots are useful in revealing different aspects of your hero/heroine’s character. We need some meaningful action, some discourse between the protagonists, some development of suspicion. Now is the time to introduce a complication:
    • an obstacle to be overcome
    • a new character
    • a romance
    • a death
  • Add some conflict. Your main characters should have to strive for what they want. It shouldn’t be handed to them on a plate.
  • Introduce an unexpected villain to take the story in a new direction. But don’t forget your destination.
  • If you’ve written a strong beginning and are heading towards a credible conclusion this will inform the middle and you’ll know what planning and development is needed. If the beginning is weak, the ending may be unsustainable.
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