The Keys to Writing a Gripping Middle

I’m mostly a plotter. Part of the reason for that is that I have a mentality that thinks ahead, and the other part is that I have kids. I have to maximize my writing time when I get a chance to sit down to it. Having an outline already worked out saves me time.

When I had to write a 5,000 word short story in two weeks, I saved an enormous amount of time when I had a pretty good grasp of my beginning and absolute certainty about my ending. Knowing my start and my destination, I could explore various paths to connect the two.

I thought I’d need a different technique for writing a novel. But I’m finding that a strong beginning and a definite ending are the keys to writing a gripping middle of any story. This technique may not work if you’re a pantser, but if you’re a plotter and having trouble with your middle, try it out.

A stellar beginning sets up a stellar middle.

After typing 60,000 words for the second draft of my YA mystery, I stopped to review the chapters. I edited, looking for ways to tighten my writing. I discovered that my beginning takes about 70 pages. I introduce the mystery–my main character (MC) receives a nasty anonymous note because of her mother’s notorious past– as well as my main characters, suspects, and their relationships to my MC and each other.

Once I had the beginning in good shape, I had a better focus on the middle, deciding which characters were important and which ones I could ditch. I had a better grasp of how to develop the mystery through clues and red herrings and to flesh out the characters and how their behavior could make them appear guilty or innocent.

The middle supports, hints, and/or foreshadows the ending.

How many times have you watched a movie or read a book and found the ending blindside you? A successful ending may seem like it comes out of nowhere, but when I reflect on the story, I can detect the bread crumbs of plot points and character development that lead to the stunning conclusion. The endings that truly blindside me are the ones where the writer didn’t establish enough supports or hints or clues in the middle to create a satisfying ending.

Hero, sneering at villain: You didn’t know I’ve studied underwater basketweaving for the last five years, so you never suspected I could make a trap when I dove underwater.

Sidekick: Wow! I’ve known you for ten years and had no clue.

Neither does anyone in the audience as they groan through this frustrating ending.

If the fact that the little brother of the MC likes to invent things is critical to the ending, then I have to introduce this quirk early and repeat it enough so it seems natural to the character without underlining it. The the reader, hopefully, is surprised but not stunned.

I’d love to learn to read your opinions. Plotters, do you have other keys to writing a gripping middle? Pantsters, I’d love to know how you tackle the middle.

2 thoughts on “The Keys to Writing a Gripping Middle

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  1. Like you, I often stop to review. My plotting method has evolved over time, and it involves asking questions at crucial points. When I first start out with a premise, and hammer on it to see if it will hold water once developed into a plot. Again in the middle, and again at the end. I take a couple of weeks off writing and re-read what I have. If I HAVE TO keep reading, I know my middle is good.

    1. That’s a great piece of advice! I have chapters which I have to keep reading. Once get the whole written, I’ll have to go back and see if the entire middle holds up that well.

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