Handling a meandering middle in your story
When I use the term “midpoint fatigue,” I’m referring to when your story starts to drag, meander, or get too dull in the middle act. This is basically when you start to lose the retention of your readers and people start to skim past pages and scenes to get to the juicy or more interesting bits of the story.
Below I’ve compiled a list of methods to try if you’re struggling with this or to keep things well-paced and interesting and avoid a dwattling middle act. Hopefully, if you’re struggling with this or just need a bit of pointers, that this will be of use.
1.)Introduce a new plot element
A lot of sagging middles just don’t have much happening, like the beginning of the story starts off with a bang that sizzles out through the middle of the story and only picks up towards the end.
To help prevent that from happening in your story try to introduce an interesting a new plot element, this could be a side quest, a twist, a secret being revealed, a new conflict, etc. Something to make your readers perk up and get even more invested into the plot.
This keeps things interesting and gives your reader more reason to read while the main plot gradually unravels.
2.)Show progress is being made
Another common issue stems from how story structures tend to be set up.
Often the start and end of a story have tons of interesting things happening while the middle is saddled with the duty of buildup and keeping the reader glued to the plot and in anticipation of future events.
In fact, if I were to break things down to their core I’d wager a lot of story structures look like this:
Start: Intro and hook
End: Delivery (of previous plot buildup)
So, I’d recommend putting some focus on working on the buildup for that final delivery at the end.
Show characters getting closer to their goal and making progress. Show minor accomplishments, setbacks, struggles, and obstacles that are plot-relevant. I want to emphasize to really make events that occur to be plot-relevant because random scenes or elements could be contributing to this meandering feeling in the middle of the story.
If you nail this, then the mid part of your story won’t feel like it’s at a standstill or irrelevant.
Scenes, especially in the first draft of your story can tend to drag on for longer than they need to be. A knee-jerk reaction to this tip tends to be “but every detail counts!” or “but the reader needs to know this,” but the truth is you can get a lot across when you simplify or edit down scenes.
This could mean removing dialogue, cutting and splicing scenes, etc.
If you’re considering doing this I’d suggest asking yourself these questions when you go through scenes:
Do any scenes drag on? Can conversations be wrapped up quicker? Do action scenes need to be shortened?
Making small tweaks like changing sentences such as:
“He pointed his finger to the right and I turned to see the door. I scowled at him.”
To something like “he pointed towards the door and I scowled,” could make a world of difference and keep things flowing.
If you want to know more about this concept I’d recommend this previous post I did, linked here: Over-detailing)
Another thing that could bog down the middle are scenes that aren’t relevant to the plot. Sometimes you need to cut scenes, plot elements, or even characters for the story to pick up steam.
(You can read more about this on my Killing Darlings post: linked here)
5.)Re-read and review
If you’re still bamboozled on what’s putting the brakes on your story and causing readers to lose interest I’d recommend taking a short break from your writing then coming back to view it with a fresh set of eyes.
Try to read your story from a reader’s perspective and keep in mind a reader wouldn’t know the full story, future scenes, or underlying elements. The reader would be reading and experiencing the story for the very first time.
Doing this helps you view your work in an unbiased light and better evaluate your story as a whole.
6.)Talk to critique partners or beta- readers
Have someone read your story and get their input. Ask them thoughtful questions like what story elements they liked in the midsection or why they felt bored or the need to skip past some scenes.
Maybe go more in-depth and ask them what they felt could be stronger with plot elements or what they would like to see more or less of.
When you do this read their comments carefully and don’t correct or “disprove” their thinking. Let them express their opinion, stockpile their comments, and figure out where to go from there. The key here is to get an overall idea of your story flow, locate the issues, and figure out what edits or changes need to be made.
If you want to know more about handling these critiques I’d recommend checking out this recent post I did a little while back if you haven’t already: (Oh,) what to do about criticism?
Thank you for reading, and until next time.