How to Plan the (“Messy”) Middle of your Novel

Lesson 4 Chapter 1 Module 1

Writers find the middle of novels intimidating to plot. 

This is where first drafts fail: most people can usually sketch out a few opening chapters, but then slowly the story starts to meander or run adrift. 

This course will cover this big topic -- how to write the middle of your book -- in much more detail later. However, as a preview of those later sections, I wanted to highlight, quickly, how the character-first approach helps you think about the middle of your story.

To re-cap: we have been thinking of a main character who has goals and perspectives all of their own, and who begins the book not aware of the "real" plot.

The "beginning" of the book ends with the main character becoming aware, in the haziest possible way, of this real plot, and investigating it in a reluctant, hesitant, skeptical, or mercenary way. After all, the character still wants what she wanted at the start. That's still her focus. Only she feels like she has to check out or indulge or take a detour into this other concern or problem, this thing that will eventually turn out to be the "real story."

The middle of the book depicts, in a series of stages, the character learning about this real plot and coming to care about it. But this process still takes a long time! The drama of the middle comes because the protagonist consistently underestimates and misunderstands what is really at stake. They don't get it! For a really long time! 

In most stories, there is also an emotional, internal journey: the protagonist spends the middle failing to commit to this "real plot," and also often failing to grasp what this story means to them, as an individual.

The middle generally ends when the protagonist has, at last, got it -- they finally do understand what is at stake -- but it's too late. They've let the villain get the upper hand, or they've alienated the person they most care about, or they've failed to take action when they had the chance, or they've not examined the personal sacrifice needed.

Sometimes they simply see that their original goal and this "real plot" are incompatible: to get one, they have to lose the other forever.

Now everything seems lost. In some stories, the protagonist heads for "a dark night of the soul" or a (temporary) loss of power.

That's the end of the middle.

The character-first approach helps you navigate this middle by breaking the character's journey down into different stages. In other words: by designing the middle around your character's stage by stage realisation of the real plot, we make it easy for the reader to feel and enjoy the story. 

We also make it easier for you, the writer, to keep track of your (previously messy) middle and tell a great story.