How to Fill the Middle of Your Novel

The dreaded middle.

The sagging middle.
The Black Hole.
The Abyss.
HELL.
Whatever you call it, Act 2 (in a 3-Act Structure or Acts 2&3 in a 4-Act Structure) can be torture. It’s roughly 50-60% of the book, after all. So I’m sharing a tip. It may not work for you or your story. We’re all different in how we think, learn, apply knowledge, analyze. Some need a map, others don’t. For me, the following method works wonders.
1. KNOW YOUR BEGINNING AND END. Plot out Act 1 and 3 or even write a draft of them so you know the story and character arcs.

2. Make a list of your plot threads that begin and end after the first plot point (aka First Act Turn). **Some people call plot threads different things, like Plot Layers for their MC and Subplots for supporting characters. That’s fine. Just make a list of every thread that is introduced at that 25% mark.
Example from my WIP:
  • Thread: Freedom/Space
I combined these because they are directly related in my novel. My MC’s greatest fear is the unknown world of space, of getting lost in it. As for freedom, she is in a prison space station so there is no real chance of Freedom, though she desires it.

3. Plot your Inciting Incident, Midpoint, and Resolution of each thread.

Example from my WIP:
·         Thread:Freedom/Space

 II: First day of work detail. MC is forced to face her greatest fear by being placed on a maintenance team that operates outside the station, repairing the hull by a tether. The team must work together for smooth repairs. She has to become a cog in the well-oiled machine that is this team and at first, she is not. This point occurs close to my First Plot Point for the Main Plot Line. Around the 25% mark.

Midpoint:  MC cuts her partner’s tether on accident, due to her fear. Someone else on the team saves the girl from floating away into Space. The MC panicked and didn’t trust the girl, therefore accidentally cutting the girl’s tether with her tool. This point occurs close to my Midpoint for the Main Plot. Around the 50% mark.

 Resolution: MC must conquer her fear and lead the “hero” across the outer hull to the repair shaft above the hangar so they can get a craft to escape. Midpoint scenario is mirrored because he almost comes detached from the hull, but this time, she saves him. They have to work together and trust each other as they maneuver across the hull. This point occurs close to my Second Plot Point or Third Act Turn. Around the 75% mark. (though in my novel, this will be close to the 85% mark).

**Notice that three things happen:

1. The thread has a beginning, middle, and end that contributes to A) my main external plot and B) my MC’s internal arc. She changes and it is visible in this thread. Because she overcomes this fear, she is able to meet a larger goal of escaping. Something that couldn’t have been done had she not conquered this fear.
2. The thread wraps up close to the end of Act 2. This gives me room at the end to complete and resolve my Main Plot Line.
3. I have used my Theme of TRUST. The MC has to learn to trust herself and her ability in this thread. She also has to learn to trust others because she is dependent upon teamwork for survival on the hull.
**If you plot this all out on a board or even on index cards (my method) in Scrivener, you can SEE how these threads should be weaved and how they work together or against each other. 

**ALSO…I have 3 scenes immediately upon plotting this thread. If you have 5 plot threads/subplots/plot layers/whatever, you have a GIVEN 15 scenes. If you work in 2 pinch points for each thread? In between the II and Midpoint and another between Midpoint and Resolution? You have a GIVEN 25 scenes. 

See how that sagging middle isn’t sagging so much anymore?

**The key is to make sure the threads affect the main plot, WHICH SHOULD BE VISIBLE ALWAYS, whether directly or indirectly. If your MC’s MAIN GOAL is to find out the truth about a Big Bad, and you have subplots/threads that don’t relate to that or affect it in any way, rethink your threads.


GOOD LUCK! Hope this little bit of info helps!

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2 Comments

  1. I've always heard to write a great beginning and a great ending and then make sure they are as close together as possible.
    I couldn't do the index cards or anything, as that would confuse me. I do use Blake Snyder's Fifteen beats and that helps.

  2. YES, Alex. I love the beat sheet. I know my first and last acts before I do this middle portion. And I match the scenes up with beats/plot points. I need LOTS of detail and I'm highly visual so this method works wonders.