We’ve discussed a good bit about novel’s structure, focusing so far on writing a bang-up opening line, the first fifty pages, and getting through Act One. If you’ve set those up well, then segueing into the middle section proves much easier. Now, your story and characters are progressing nicely, and you’re cookin’!
But what trips up more writers than anything is the middle section. This comprises over half of your book. It’s the meat, where the story and characters deepen. Where you take off on different tangents that all come back, eventually, into the mainstream, the main theme, the raison d’etre. In other words, the middle section of the book will make or break your novel.
What we see most often here is sagging middles. Yep, the book’s setup is great. And it comes to a satisfying conclusion. But the middle is either so jumbled and convoluted, or, more often, very little happens here. The pacing lags, the characters take paths that don’t lead back to the story question, the book’s middle sags, and your reader has just gone off to make a sandwich. Once lured away, he rarely comes back.
So, how to keep this from happening? In a phrase, Plot Points. A lot needs to be going on through this section, so let’s just go over the high points.
The beginning of Act Two transitions our hero from one world to another (no matter in what sort of genre you’re writing). In myth and metaphor, the character would go through an actual gate, often with a guardian in front of it, and have to pass some test to do so. The hero is stepping into the brink of the unknown, and some have to be kicked through it!
In the next stage, she meets tests, allies, and enemies. Here the hero faces little tests, which train her in specific skills. Many have to do with the formation of a group, or allies. The polarity/duality again rises as the hero aligns with one side or another. This is the place where the hero learns about the other world. He’s a freshman here, and learns the idea of grace under pressure.
The next stage has her approaching the heart of the story—the outside conflict mirroring the inside one. Somehow the hero must penetrate this. It will test her defenses. The masks of everyone also shift at this stage. It’s a shifting of power. Sometimes people rise and fall here. It’s also about preparation, reconnaissance, rehearsal, planning. Many doubts and fears arise. The hero braces himself, and calls all resources together.
Because now, we get to the crux. Here the character faces all of the stuff she’s been denying. Her greatest fear. This is the heart of the story, and the most important piece. It’s the borderline between life and death (literally or figuratively–for example, when an addict truly decides to become sober), and puts a different focus on life. The character may even experience a metaphorical death. It’s empowering. The hero is painted into a corner, and has to face what she doesn’t want to face about herself.
And she has to master this, for your book to be satisfying. Which brings us to the next stage–rebirth. This is the reward stage. Metaphorically, the hero finds the sword, and it’s usually broken and is up to the hero to fix it. The sword is symbolic of power. After confronting the most fearful thing though, the hero can now pick up the sword and use it effectively. The story comes to a head–this recalls the point of the story! When the hero gets through the preceding ordeal, many possibilities present themselves. He can turn back, go sideways, forward, etc. But it’s a pause for celebration, and remembering what he’s been through. It’s a feeling of reprising the story just a bit, so your reader can catch up, along with the character. This is often an opportunity for a love scene. She gleans her reward–new insight, intuition, new self-realization, etc.
Act Two ends, and we’re ready to surge into Act Three and the finale.
So, lots to accomplish here! Focusing on all of this, bringing in plot points to keep the story going, will get you through this vast section splendidly—with no sagging middles!