Writing a story can be a lot like a road trip: You’ll go to exciting new places, it’s always a good idea to have snacks—and you might get lost on the way. At Writer’s Relief, we know it’s easy for writers to wander in the wrong direction and pack on unnecessary details in the middle of a story. But if editors and readers lose interest in the middle, they’re not going to stick around until the story’s end. Here’s how to tighten your story’s sagging middle and keep readers interested.
Techniques That Trim And Tighten A Story’s Sagging Middle
Change the Setting
The setting affects the characters’ moods and actions, which will determine if things move along slowly or quickly. When a scene isn’t working for you, especially if the mood is off, try changing the setting. If your characters are going to confront the killer in an abandoned warehouse, whether that warehouse is on a busy city street or a quiet suburban industrial park will change how the action moves forward.
You can also change the weather! A scene with lovers meeting in a coffee shop will be different depending on whether it’s pouring rain outside, snowing, or a hot summer day.
Some writers become so fascinated with the characters and world they’re building, they believe more details and subplots make the story more interesting to everyone. But overwriting with a plethora of adjectives, lengthy descriptions, and multiple story arcs will only take away from the main plotline and lose your reader. After your first draft, go back and trim away the excess. No matter how much you enjoy describing the fifty-eight different varieties of wildflowers growing in the nearby field—unless the murder weapon is death by daisies, take a Weedwacker to the superfluous details.
The best way to avoid overwriting and advance your story is to make sure you “show, don’t tell.” And dialogue can provide vital information and details in a few lines, rather than paragraphs.
Add Some Tension
If your story is losing steam, it might be time to add a little tension and conflict. The hero is ready to diffuse the bomb—but what if, just as the device’s timer hits two minutes, he drops the wire-cutting tool into the lake? Or perhaps while driving to an important meeting, your protagonist is stopped and lectured by an overzealous crossing guard. Maybe she’s ready to pop the question at a romantic dinner, only to spy her sweetheart kissing someone else outside the restaurant. Including tension in your story’s middle will keep your readers glued to the pages.
We mean a character, of course! One of the best ways to give the middle of your story a kick in the pants is to have someone kick the bucket. Just be sure it’s a character that’s truly expendable, but whose death will influence the actions of the main character. Killing off the best friend could provide a traumatic push necessary to complete a goal the protagonist had lost the motivation to achieve.
Be careful not to kill off an essential character too soon, since death typically is permanent. And unless you’re George R.R. Martin, try not to get carried away with the body count.
Give It A Twist
Things don’t always go the way you plan. Why should it be any different for your characters? The middle of the story is a prime time to introduce the unexpected. The spy is really a double agent! The dog got skunked right before the big dinner party! Kindly old Grandpa’s been having an affair! Adding an unexpected, radical element will keep your readers interested and propel your story’s middle toward the end.
And—ultimate plot twist!—keep in mind a plot twist doesn’t have to be negative or challenging. Everything could be going wrong in your story, and just when it seems things couldn’t get worse, it unexpectedly gets better.
Many writers find it easy to create an irresistible opening line and a perfect ending, but have trouble keeping the middle of the story compelling. Using these writing tips and techniques will help you tighten up the saggy parts of your story’s middle and keep your readers engaged until the very last word.
Question: Which techniques have you used to tighten your writing?