Writers and readers don’t necessarily experience fiction the same way. Novelists usually love the set up, where they got the idea in the first place! Ah, the climax. It aptly rewards or disciplines, restoring moral order and communicating theme. Not to mention the relief of typing “The End.”
Readers might disagree. Because the characters are still unfamiliar, the stakes must be swiftly and enormously high. Theme is enjoyable only if subtle, credible, and deserved. If readers love a book, they rarely want it to end. Hard to say goodbye. The next novel might be less appealing. Many readers, then, favor the middle. There the conflict escalates, the characters breathe. Choices surprise, while events seem motivated yet unpredictable.
Perhaps the middle causes more trouble for you than your characters. What’s the strategy?
~Accelerate the inciting incident.
Start with a symbolic Big Bang. An explosion like that will organically engender a chain of events that force your protagonist to learn the requisite lessons for a happy ending. Deliver the inciting incident immediately, and choose one you needn’t explain.
~ Look ahead.
Be willing to discard your homework. Why does the protagonist hold grudges, despise autumn, or refuse to own a poodle? It’s great for the writer to know all of this backstory —and more. Just so the reader needn’t endure what amounts to someone else’s notes.
~ Explore plot templates.
The web offers numerous reminders of what the mid-section must accomplish. Among the best choices? Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey or Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method. Pick a recipe that suits you, and use it flexibly rather than dogmatically.
At the first sign of a sagging middle, the average novelist rushes to fill the gap, usually by reaching wide instead of deep. Rather than adding new subplots or minor characters, focus on what’s already there. Intensify and intertwine. Too many ingredients spoil the soup.
~ Fall in love with how your protagonist earns the ending.
If you’ve done your job right, your main character worked as hard as a team of dogs to enjoy that happiness, victory, or moral triumph. As Ursula K. Le Guin observed, “It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end.”