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Some say the beginning of a book is the most difficult to master. Others say it’s the end.
I say it’s the middle.
Though I can’t find any statistics on this, I’m willing to bet that when readers put down a book, it’s usually in the middle. Beginnings are hit or miss, but if a reader is interested enough to continue reading, it becomes a test of whether or not you can keep their interest throughout the middle of the book. If so, they’ll likely make it through to the end.
Why the Middle Is Difficult
Firstly, it’s just the longest part. The beginning generally takes up about 20% of the book. The end is the same. That leaves the rest, which is a whopping 60%.
Narrative structures don’t really help you with what to do with here either. Hero’s Journey says “trials” or “challenges,” Save the Cat says “Fun and Games,” others just say “rising action.”
Really, how helpful is any of that? We’ve just talked about how important the middle of a book is and yet we have almost no structure to go by!
So What Does Go in the Middle?
The middle of the story holds together the whole book. Think of it like an Oreo. Without the cream filling, it’s just two separate chocolate cookies. Not super special. That filling makes all the difference – and that’s the middle of a story.
The purpose of the middle is to bridge the beginning and the end. Without the middle, the end we’ve been striving to get to doesn’t make sense. The story is incomplete. And guess who takes us on that journey from the beginning to the end of the story?
That’s right. The main character.
So the protagonist and their growth is the number one thing we need to remember when filling in the middle of a story. And so we get this:
Many writers fall into the trap of saving action for the beginning and end while the middle is the chill part in between.
Please. Please no.
This is what will bore readers and cause them to stop reading. If there’s no fire under the hero, no ticking time bomb, no bad guys chasing them, then the middle easily becomes stagnant and lifeless.
We need to see the main character struggling in response to the action. Struggles reveal who the character truly is due to the decisions they make.
Over time, the character’s decisions must begin to change due to the influence of their circumstances. This change is gradual and not fully complete until the end of the story. In fact, the completion of the change is the true climax of the whole story. The character has a choice to go back to who they were or accept the change they’ve gone through.
The bottom line is that all of this change happens in the middle – only the final confirmation of it happens at the end.
Some writers think payoffs are just for the end – but you have to give the reader some kind of satisfaction throughout the book!
Let the main character have some small victories. Resolve a side plot. You can even offer payoffs when there’s a defeat. Maybe the loss causes two characters to reconcile or creates a deeply emotional moment between characters. Readers care about these payoffs, too.
The Middle Structure
Notice there’s a neat progression here. Let’s put together everything we just talked about.
Action → Struggle → Change → Payoff (ASCP)
The action puts the main character in a tight spot. Their decision in that struggle showcases the change happening within them, and then there’s some kind of payoff.
This cycle must repeat throughout the middle to make that change realistic.
What Does This Look Like in the Plot?
Think of the middle as the part of the book that readers came for. If your back cover blurb is about a chase through space, then guess what the middle of the book is? The chase through space.
When you think of the middle like this, it becomes much easier. Use the selling point of your book – the story you’ll advertise on the back cover – to create the plot of the middle. Then, use the ASCP method as the structure.
And voila! You have a thrilling, exciting, solid middle that will carry your readers through to the end.
Got questions? Feel free to ask in the comments. And as always…
P.S. I’m on vacation this week and taking a much needed rest after the craziness of Hurricane Ian, so there will be no blog posts next week. I’ll catch up with y’all on the 17th!
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When you write as much as I do, you have to take frequent breaks from sitting. A standing desk (not a whole desk, but a mini desk that will sit on top of my current desk with my laptop, keyboard, and mouse and extend upward) will allow me to continue working while maintaining that good blood flow to my brain. Thank you so much for your support that allows me to keep producing free content. God bless you! ♥️ E.J.Donate