The middle child syndrome is prevalent enough to earn entry in the Urban Dictionary. Dr. Touraj Shafai defines this as a child “not getting enough attention and love because the parents are busy and providing more attention and care to the oldest and the youngest children.”
Does this reflect how novelists sometimes view their work? “I’m busily revising my opening till it’s practically perfect,” one writer tells another. “The end is what turns me on” is the reply. “Fireworks! Transformed characters! Completed arcs!” Many novelists revel in either the inciting incident or the climax, neglecting the middle brainchild.
It could be that the middle drags along, lacking direction, constantly rambling about the past, and describing everything while doing very little. Your listless one can evoke exhausted listlessness in its originator. Yes, the middle is the difficult position, and difficult is usually the least loved. The middle offspring faces:
· Arrested development.
· Obsession with the past.
· Precocious urge to figure out and solve everything—instantly.
No wonder the novelist wants to concentrate on the thrilling potential of the youngster or urbane sophistication of the one beautifully grown. But like a good parent, a good novelist loves all three offspring, and as equally as possible.
There’s hope—plenty of it, actually, for the middle, the one raising those offspring, and those encountering them in a book that works from start to finish.
Tip: The middle is where all the fun happens.
You can bring out the best in your under-appreciated middle with:
Are you coddling the middle of your novel like a sensitive child? If so, stop. Make trouble. Trap. Corner. Ravage your characters. They might object, but your readers never will.
Which events and pressures cause the protagonist to change and grow?
How can you hint—neither invisibly nor obviously—what’s ahead?
Is the middle one a little obstreperous? If not, time to encourage that. After all, psychologists are divided over whether it’s a desirable or difficult position to hold. Go for desirable.
How can the middle integrate what precedes with what follows? Echoes are great fun. Let readers enjoy them.
Isn’t the fun of the novel the journey rather than the arrival? That’s where this child really shines. Take advantage.
Love the beginning, middle, and end equally—and your readers will, too.