It takes a long time to write a novel. There’s the heady wild rush at the start when the excitement and intrigue of a new idea compels us along. There’s the relief and satisfaction when the end is in sight and we are tying things up with neat bows. Then there’s the middle…
Middle’s are hard. In the middle our protagonist is in the thick of things. It’s their darkest hour. They are not sure whether they will prevail, or if all will be lost.
It is the point where we need to keep the reader reading. We don’t want them flicking through the pages to see how many are left, or worse, dozing off. We’ve all experienced that moment in the middle of a book – the yawn. When we may make a choice between reading on, or putting a story down and starting something new. So how do we avoid ‘the saggy middle’?
In the hero’s journey the protagonist is dogged by emotional despair and psychological darkness as they face apparent defeat at the midpoint. They feel all is lost and must let go of their old self in the face of failure.
Then they have a revelation and take a leap of faith.
During the midpoint the protagonist makes a decisive choice to sacrifice themselves for the greater good, to do what is right or what is necessary regardless of the consequences in order to attain their goal. The midpoint needs to raise the stakes and force our hero toward making a moral choice. They represent the Warrior archetype taking a stand for what they believe in. They may have a revelation or an epiphany that makes them decide to fight to attain their goal.
The midpoint is where your story reveals itself – everything builds up to it and then unravels from it. At the midpoint in the movie Casablanca, Rick is so harsh to Ilsa that she runs off. He is left alone in the bar, head in hands, pondering what a terrible man he has become. It is his dark night of the soul. He makes a choice and is then propelled into redeeming himself in the second half of the movie.
The midpoint shakes up the plot and often reveals new information about the hero. The protagonists inner journey takes place before the final showdown when they pass the point of no return and come out all guns blazing. The midpoint needs to accelerate the plot for the reader, not put them to sleep.
You know that feeling when you stay up too late reading because you can’t put a book down because you must find out what happens next? That’s what we’re looking for. Now I must get back to my own…
Main picture: Sketch by Peter Rode