Unlike beginnings, the middle is more the meat and potatoes of a story. This is the section where you will "hold" the slush reader's attention, make your point, and set up the parameters for the climax.
To be effective, the middle of your story must:
- maintain the reader's interest
- speak to the theme of the story
- explain the details of the world/conceit
- set up the final conflict/climax
Allow me to explain these points in more detail.
Maintain the Reader's Interest
The middle section of the story must maintain a rhythm of tension and relief. Depending on the length of the story, you might have two, or three, or even four crises or high points of tension. Since a reader can't endure that sort of high-octane ride, you must also have mirrored sections of relief where the reader has a chance to take a breath, or laugh, or pause and reflect on what's come before and what is yet to come.
Speak to the Theme of the Story
The middle section allows you to add symbolism to the story, to tie all of the elements together with a through thread. The theme should lull your reader into thinking, "Oh, yes, that's what's important."
Explain the Details of the World/Conceit
The conceit of a short story is the trick, the gimmie, the one piece of speculation that captures the reader's interest. The middle section should explain the details of this world building or world-twisting exercise. This section is where you explain how it all works and why it's important to our protagonist.
For example, in the movie, Ghostbusters the conceit is that ghosts do exist and a band of scientists has figured out how to remove them.
Set Up the Final Conflict/Climax
Each scene or section of the middle moves your protagonist one step closer to the big event. Perhaps they are racing against time and the middle uses up all of the main character's time. Perhaps the hero has failed at every attempt to get the girl, and by the end of the middle, she's tied to the railroad tracks with the evil villain driving the train. The middle is where all of the events, all of the protagonists problems, issues, worries, etc come to a head and will either break her or allow her to triumph.
In summary, the middle is the stuffing. You have already rocked your reader, hooked them into reading on, so now you must fold in every piece of information, jam in every problem, and shove every setback into the cavity of the turkey and pop it into the oven. Bring your reader to the brink, put your hero in the worst, most horrible, difficult, trying, complicated situation and prepare the reader for the climax. Frodo has finally brought the ring to Modor and it's time to toss it into the lava.
One more thing:
Most writers hate the middle.
That's why I called this post The Long Slow Trudge. The middle section is the part of the story (or novel) that feels like the most work, and sometimes makes you believe that your work is crap, you'll never amount to anything, the ending will never work, and you might as well put all your efforts into your day job.
Do not despair, fair writer. All of us feel this way when we write the middle. Writing is a process, and to get to the end, you have to go through almost as much failure as you've thrown at your protagonist.
Sometimes a good outline, plot noodling session, or planning stage will help you to plow through the middle with grace and determination.
Do it now
- Choose three of the five openings you wrote as the exercise in my post on Beginnings, and then plot out the middle sections.
- Choose the plot you like the best and write the middle section.