Novel Writing Tips: How to Avoid a Sagging Middle

I found this post quite by accident. It is from the website called ‘Kill Your Darlings’. I thought it had some interesting tips, and it made me giggle!

 “What is a sagging middle?

It’s when our body reminds us about how much we ate at the party the night before.

Ok, ok, not that sagging middle.

What I’m actually referring to, is when the middle section of a novel (found between the rush of the beginning and before the climax of the story) fails to hold the reader’s interest. This may be because the plot has dwindled, characters have lost their motivation, or the conflict has dried up.

How to recognise a sagging middle

If you’re still in the process of writing your story and it hasn’t yet been read by anyone else, you may find it hard to recognise a sagging middle.

Even experienced critiquers or beta readers have trouble putting their finger on this culprit; most often they will say things like it needs more tension or it seemed a bit slow in the middle.

Look for these warning signs:

  • You found (or are finding) writing the middle section hard
  • There are long explanations of character, world building, etc
  • It’s devoid of conflict or action
  • Tension slows instead of rising
  • Characters reveal too much about themselves early on in the manuscript
  • A secondary character has taken over
  • A subplot has taken over the main plot
  • You don’t know what to write next
  • You have become bored with the story
  • The plot seems unrealistic to you

How to fix a sagging middle

You can choose to use as many of the following suggestions as you like in your quest to tighten that sagging middle! My suggestion is to use the ones that will help you make the most impact first.

Write your ending. This way you can go back to the middle with a clear vision of where you want the characters to end up.

Do a quick outline. One sentence for each scene is all you really need to remind you of what you want to happen in your story.

Even out your pacing. Sometimes when there is too much action / danger / romance in one section it can cause the pacing of the story to act strangely. You need to make sure that even though you have scenes filled with action, danger or romance that these are spaced throughout your novel and not all in one section alone.

Give your character (and reader) time to breathe by including some short paragraphs of back-story, or a scene where your character is catching some down time, or maybe even some comic relief.

Up the conflict. This can be either internal or external conflict, but every scene in your story should have conflict (until the end where it gets resolved).

And the most important fix:

Every scene needs to move the story forward. If a scene doesn’t move your story forward with either characterisation, plot, or details your reader needs to know, it shouldn’t be included.

Eliminating a sagging middle can transform your manuscript into a story that keeps readers on edge and unable to put the book down.


Note from Jenni: I hope you have found this article helpful, or at least interesting. Please follow my blog so you don’t miss out on any upcoming posts. If you have any questions or feedback, please feel free to contact me on my Contact Me page. You can also find me on Facebook by clicking the ’F’ icon at the bottom of any of the pages of my website.

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