No More Sagging Middles
by Beth Cornelison
Middle chapters are the meat and potatoes chapters. In the middle of your book, you need to be doing several things, which build on a strong opening and proper story setup. Those things include: fleshing out characters- giving them depth and emotion, revealing backstory, unfolding plot elements, testing the hero and heroine for their growth arc and showing what they’ve learned in each stage of the process, building conflict, tossing out red herrings and introducing new characters, and developing the romance-- maybe including a love scene. Whew! So with so much to do, how could the story be sagging? Here’s a checklist of some things to look for in your middle chapters.
1) Make sure your characters aren’t drifting aimlessly through the pages. Make sure that with each scene your character has a goal. Not just the big picture story goal you set up in chapter one, but a baby step, working toward the story goal. Goals are the momentum of the story, the sense of going somewhere and making progress rather than floundering in the same place, so check each scene for character goals.
2) Likewise, every scene needs conflict. Those goals your hero and heroine have in every scene? They aren’t always going to reach those goals, because the other characters in those scenes will have goals too… usually goals that oppose or hinder the hero’s goals. For every two steps forward your hero makes, they may take one step or more backward because of the conflict that arises in a scene. That conflict will make your hero work for what he wants and make new decisions regarding how to proceed.
3) Take the story in an unexpected direction. Drop the proverbial dead body in the room. A surprise twist, say learning a deep dark secret the heroine has been keeping from the hero or some event that takes the story in a whole new direction, will keep the reader’s interest. Think in terms of a twist that will up the stakes for the hero or heroine or increase the conflict, emotion or goals of the hero or heroine. Whatever you decide, don’t let the plot stagnate. Be fresh and avoid clichés.
4) Go deeper with the emotion. Readers read romance for the emotion. We are writing about love, pain, joy, rejection, betrayal, courage, grief, fear, and happily ever after. Mine the emotions of your characters and show the reader all the roller-coaster emotions your character is going through. Don’t be afraid to push your characters into corners and test them to their limits so that they can shine all the brighter when they reap their happy ending.
5) Watch your pacing. Everything from sentence and paragraph length to side-track info-dumps about backstory or setting can affect your pace. To avoid info-dumps, weave in information through your character’s POV as much as possible.
6) Cut deadweight scenes or parts of scenes. Every scene needs to have at least three purposes for being in your book to make a maximum impact on your story. Can you combine scenes to do more than one thing? If so, do it.
Thank you for blogging with us today, Beth.
Rita finalist Beth Cornelison received her bachelor's degree in Public Relations from the University of Georgia. After working in public relations for about a year, she moved with her husband to Louisiana, where she decided to pursue her love of writing fiction.
Since that time, she has won numerous honors for her work including the coveted Golden Heart for unpublished authors awarded by Romance Writers of America. She made her first sale to Silhouette Intimate Moments in June 2004 and has gone on to publish many more books with Silhouette. She has also published with Five Star Expressions, Samhain Publishing, and Sourcebooks.
Beth has presented workshops across the country to numerous chapter meetings, conferences, online classes and book clubs. Beth Cornelison lives in Louisiana with her husband, one son and a fluctuating number of cats who think they are people.
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