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Strengthen Middle Chapters (Excerpt #3)—Launch Week Festivities*

March 14, 2016 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill
last modified March 14, 2016

An excerpt from The Magic of Fictionfront-cover-image-only-2

from Chapter 21, “Shore Up Soggy,
Sagging Middles”

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Middle chapters are the heart of story, the place where a story’s lifeblood is pumped, the place where the story’s essence is sustained. Without a strong and healthy middle, the opening and ending, no matter how attractive, ultimately have no life and therefore no impact on the reader.

Give your readers more than words. Give them riveting story.

If the middle doesn’t hold together, if it’s not able to support everything you hang on it, then the entire structure risks collapse.

Make your stories not only attractive on the surface, but also make them robust by giving proper attention to middle chapters. Fill those chapters with meat, with scenes and events with more substance than marshmallow fluff and more taste than dusty, dry sawdust.

Examining every scene and every chapter as if they’ll one day stand under the spotlight to be scrutinized by readers, critics, reviewers, and even students of literature will keep you on track as you edit long stretches in the middle of your stories.

Slogging through middle chapters can be tough, but look at editing those middles from another point of view: if you can’t stand spending time with them, imagine how your readers will feel. If your middle chapters aren’t compelling, there’s definitely something wrong with them. If even you want to hurry through them, that’s an indictment on the bulk of your story.

Middles can and should be strengthened, fashioned into taut powerhouses of sharp writing and engrossing fiction.

Middles should contain not only necessary back story but riveting front story, the current action of events unfolding even as readers press close to feel the danger, revel in the romance, or tremble with eagerness at what may be waiting at the turn of the next page.

Can you make your middle chapters just as spellbinding as your opening, as gripping as your climax, as rewarding as your conclusion? You can and you should.

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Read more about middle chapters in The Magic of Fiction.

Join us all week—March 13 through March 17—for more excerpts and other Launch Week festivities to celebrate The Magic of Fiction.

* Comments in this article are eligible for the Prize Pack Giveaway. The single prize winner will be chosen randomly from comments made on eligible Launch Week articles. (#5)

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9 Responses to “Strengthen Middle Chapters (Excerpt #3)—Launch Week Festivities*”

  1. ‘Strengthen Middle Chapters’ is another example of the interdependence of the story parts;
    there can be no let up on giving the reader ‘a riveting story’, especially in the middle chapters.

  2. Aristotle said cryptically that a story has a beginning, middle, and end. We understand that the beginning occurs when a conflict becomes immediate, urgent, a matter of life and death–actual, spiritual, or intellectual death, and apparently insoluble. The end is a resolution of the conflict–or no resolution having been rendered in the great muddle of the story, that is, each attempt at solving the resolution having been shown not to work. The middle of the story is a muddle where things get continuously complicated. We may regard the three parts as conflict, complications, and resolution. Think MUDDLE.

  3. Rachel says:

    The middle used to be the hardest for me, but it has gotten easier to keep up the momentum of the beginning and the climax of the end. The middle is the best part because you really get to know your characters.

  4. Kat says:

    Finding a balance between the back story and primary line is very difficult. I think we’re naturally geared to seek out the most action-heavy sections of our story and so enjoy writing them more than others. It’s usually (in my experience, which is not as grand as yours) the middle that really makes the story.
    I think the first draft it to slam it out, and the second (and up) is to weave in the information that gives a story depth and beauty. Middles give writers a chance to breathe, to get out the really integral information – it just needs to be smooth and well-paced.

  5. ELF says:

    I think the middle is when you really get to understand the characters and their motivations, but it’s a bad sign when the readers starts skipping forward to get to the next exciting event!

  6. Anna says:

    Yay. Middle section of book is so important. Seems to me in my editorial career this is where you can lose a reader,bore a reader or just plain wander into oblivion. However if middle section are done properly WaaLaa! Joe Reader is happy.
    Anna Dehennis

  7. Joanne says:

    Great advice. Let’s be honest, no one will ever find your writing as fascinating as you do. If you don’t want to be with those middle chapters, how can you expect the reader to follow you? The middle chapters are a wonderful, fantastic place where you get to show what your characters are made of, build and nuance the story towards its climax, and possibly throw in a few subtle remarks that won’t be noticed until a second read. This is the time to make a reader love or loath your characters. Love your middle chapters. Give them attention and care. If stories went right from introduction to climax, they may be action-packed, but would leave a lot to be desired.

  8. Summer Ross says:

    True point about those middle chapters, if you can’t stand them how will a reader? I often find the middle areas to be where many authors add extra scenes that don’t actually pertain to their plot, like a conversation over an apple, that has no meaning later or during. They want to get from point A to point B and then to point C but think they need extra words to do it, which is not the case. Revision is to let go of those scenes that don’t move the story forward and replace them with something that will if the story needs it.

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