In our 40s, some people have a mid-life crisis and dwell on lost youth to the detriment of enjoying their remaining years. Those who struggle with weight gain can end up with a mid-riff bulge (aka muffin top). As writers, the middle of our manuscripts can bring unique challenges as well.
I first noticed my challenge with ‘the middle’ during last year’s National Novel Writing Month (i.e., a personal commitment to write 50,000 words of a new novel during November). While I finished the challenge, my toughest times were mid-month. My fingers flew over the keys when drafting the initial chapters. The plot and characters were new, and I loved developing the beginning scenes. When I wrote the final chapters, my typing speed hit maximum velocity. My characters avoided the twists and surprises I lobbed at them—like they were dodging a tennis ball launcher.
But back to the middle—my protagonist plotted and implemented plans. Her enemies gathered their forces. How boring is that? Even while I wrote my initial (very rough) draft, I knew the middle bits would need significant edits to keep readers interested.
The middle section of the story is commonly called “Act 2.” Some resources say this should start at about 20% and last through 75%. If you’re having a tough time visualizing what this means, consider:
If your novel is 80,000 words (320 pages) Act 2 could start at 16,000 words (page 64) and run until 60,000 words (page 240).
That’s 55% of the entire novel.
So what can a writer do to spice up the middle section?
Have your hero make mistakes or try to solve problems the wrong way.
Allow a character accomplish minor objectives.
Introduce a new character who will ultimately help your protagonist find his or her way.
Raise the stakes for your hero.
Create a desperate situation for your lead character(s).
Have your protagonist dig deep to figure out what to do (e.g., save the world, find true love, or overcome a near-fatal flaw).
Whatever you craft in your story’s center, be sure the challenges and outcomes are meaningful for the plot and character arcs. In other words, don’t add conflict without a reason. You could end up with a middle-of-the-road novel.