How many times did you read a nice book, but felt that something was missing from the book, that it could have been better somehow. The story was terrific, it wasn’t bogged down by the presence of too many unnecessary characters, nor was the plot overly complicated with too many confusing subplots. Furthermore, the beginning had you totally hooked and the ending was so intense that it left you gasping for breath. And yet you still were not a satisfied reader. There was something about the middle that left you wondering if it couldn’t have been more interesting. Simply put, the middle sagged.
The problem is probably ‘four-fold’ as Dwight V. Swain calls it when he said:
“First, odds are it’s static.
Second, it doesn’t build.
Third, it’s loaded with distractions.
Fourth, essential elements are planted.”
In fiction and short stories nothing that stays still holds readers’ attention for too long. As a writer you can’t just grab your readers’ attention once and leave it at that. You must capture and recapture it throughout your story. When nothing happens that advances your story forward the reader loses interest in it. Successful stories grow and change. Change is what brings the middle to life. Sometimes all we need to create change is one word, one move, one development.
Build in fiction means to intensify excitement in the story to the point that readers can’t stop reading. Once the story starts and the situation or atmosphere is determined, the writer then has to make the middle section interesting by adding tension, introducing character’s risk. If the author fails to do so, odds are the reader will stop reading.
Distractions or false plants are things that throw your reader off the story track. In order to build your story, if you increase the tension simply by worsening your central character’s dilemma then it will reach a point at which the story loses credibility and instead you shun the readers away from it.
Proper plant on the other hand is the reverse of false plants. Plant is some bit of information you include in your story in order to prepare readers to accept something that they’ll need to know later. Failure to do so contributes to a sagging middle. Everything in a story, particularly in its middle, must be there for a reason. The reason being to bring the story to its conclusion, to its final outcome and to do so believably.
These points aside care is the most important point of all. Your character must care about something deeply. As a writer you must show your readers what that something is so that they will care too if they’re to keep reading. Middles are the heart of the story, and as a Pulp editor once advised writers:
“If you want to describe a sunset, put it in a footnote. Don’t let it get in the way of the story.”