Has this happened to you? You’re on fire and have written the first chapter of your novel. Maybe you have two or three chapters written. Or maybe the opening of a short story. Then…nothing.

What went wrong?

Here are a few sagging middle possibilities.

Weak idea.

The story idea is not broad or deep enough to carry a novel.

One solution: make this a short story OR expand your original idea. Try brainstorming.

Narrow plot.

The plot is so narrow that you have no where to go to sustain the middle of the novel.

One solution: add one or more subplots which will deepen your original plot. (You can also work to expand the main plot.)

No focus.

Your story started out strong, but suddenly it’s all over the place and you have no idea where to take your story through the middle section.

One solution: write the end of the story and go back to look at the beginning. Now, how will you get your protagonist from the opening to the end you’ve written?

Passive protagonist.

What is your protagonist DOING? A strong protagonist must be an active character. If your protagonist is passive, what can you throw at the character to get him or her moving? What has to happen to get him or her to sit up, get up, and DO something?

One solution: reinvent your protagonist to make him or her willing to ACT in response to whatever situation is going on.

Little or no tension.

To move the plot and characters forward you have to build on the tension introduced in the opening chapters. Tension can come in various forms, from the physical or emotion to creating a sense of impending doom to building a sense of anticipation.

One solution: add to the story from the different forms of tension. NOTE: You might need a subplot or two to achieve this.

Low stakes.

Maybe you have a good idea for a story, but the stakes are too low to maintain the momentum to the climax of a novel. Will what the character is facing matter to the reader? If not, make it so.

One solution: raise the stakes. Ask “what if?” questions. What else could go wrong? What else would make the situation more difficult for the protagonist?

Final thoughts.

Remember that the middle is a series of actions and reactions – situations and challenges (mini-crisis) leading up to the climax. The protagonist should be active, even proactive. If you have no middle, there is no climax, and thus no story.

Question for today: Do you see yourself in these sagging middle possibilities? What problems have you run into in the middle of your stories? How did you find your way out of the sagging middle, or did you give up? Share with us!

Best Wishes,

June

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