Relax. I’m not going to talk about your gut. This is a writing site, not an ad for pilates.
We’ve all read those Writing for Dummies books. We know we need a ‘hook’ for the beginning, and we instinctively know that we need a dramatic ending.
No one talks about the middle of a story, except to say that the story should arch at this point, the characters should move from disaster to decision to reaction, and much of the background should be gently treaded in the stomach of the story.
And yet, as a well-read individual, you know that you’ve started to read many books with a promising beginning only to throw them down at some indeterminate point, well past the beginning but long before the end. Why? The plot bogged, the background swelled into obesity, the pace slowed to a crawl, the characters lost their zeal, and you found yourself nodding off with your glasses askew.
Yes, you need a ‘hook’ to grab the Reader. Yes, you need a memorable ending to leave them satisfied. But—if you have a
lard-ass middle, the Readers may never make it to The End, and if they remember your name, at all, it will be tagged with a negative annotation.
So what’s the cure? Well, thanks for asking. Here’s a little writing exercise that I did to trim the fat and add muscle to the middle of a story. I took a 3000 word story—one that I considered finished, but I had the sneaking suspicion that it dragged a little—broke it into eight parts, and then I re-wrote the story so that each part ended with a cliffhanger. And believe me, it took a lot of rewriting and polish, but the exercise was worth it. It taught me how to punch up the middle. I call it the writing liposuction operation.
Am I telling you to write all your stories like serials? No. Well, yes, a little. I am telling you that this is a good writing exercise. Make each part more interesting, without making it longer, and to hold to your theme. The middle should NOT be a boring road trip from Home to Finish; the trip, itself, should be enjoyable.
If you’re interested, I’ll post the above mentioned story in the future. WARNING: It is science fiction, everyone dies and I remember gutting the story in a merciless fashion for the purpose of the exercise.