Middles by Janice L. Dick

Middles have a way of sagging. I’m talking about books, of course!

Swayback Horse(adapted from http://www.coloring.ws/t.asp?b=m&t=http://www.coloring.ws/animals/horses/horse7.gif)

We may have a pretty good idea where our story is going and how it will end, but how do we manage the part that comes between an exciting beginning and an intense ending? This is important because the middle of our story makes up most of the book.

Here are a few ideas on how to tighten up our middles:

1. Employ subplots to switch up the focus. Include fresh events, characters, journeys.

2. Create and use character arcs to make sure the characters are heading in the intended direction, consistent with their personalities and situations.

3. Divide a page into two columns and record all story events, placing the “good” or positive in one column and “bad” or negative in the other. There should be a relative balance as well as an increasing intensity.

4. Increase the intensity and frequency of obstacles to the protagonist’s goal. The antagonist should be such a powerful force or person that the reader won’t know if the protagonist will win out in the end. The goal of the main character as set out at the beginning of our story should be questionable or unattainable. That’s where the tension lies.


5. Author Raymond Chandler suggested, “When you’re stuck, bring on a man with a gun.” Although this specific action may not work for your story, the idea is to spice things up, get the action going.

6. List as many options are you can think of for the next step in the story. Ask, “What if?” Don’t limit yourself in this step.

7. A healthy perspective from the “Fiction Writers Mentor” is “to simply accept that the middle is hard, and to carry on regardless . . . All these elements make the reader sit up and take notice. What’s happening here? How are the characters ever going to come out of this in one piece? We must make the reader guess, frantically turn the pages, forget about dinner and bedtime. So let’s exercise our writing expertise, work out with subplots and character development, and make that middle firm.”

Exec-Janice-DickJanice Dick writes historical and contemporary fiction, inspirational articles and book reviews. She also edits and presents writing workshops.


Fiction Writing , , , Permalink


  1. Tracy Krauss says:

    These are excellent suggestions Janice. I love the use of subplots and making some kind of diagram (chart or what have you) to track character movement and growth is really important.

  2. Martha Fehr says:

    Janice, those are excellent suggestions. I don’t write fiction but your suggestions help me to understand why I love some fiction so much more than others.
    I also want you to know how much I enjoyed your trilogy of books, starting with Calm Before the Storm. I really appreciate books based on history.
    Blessings as you continue to write.
    Martha Fehr

  3. Janice Dick says:

    I love diagrams and charts, but I also have to be careful, b/c the time I spend on them can be a procrastination tactic!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *