The difficult middle of a novel

From the website of author Don Massenzio

When I wrote my first book, I found the middle the most challenging part. I had no problem with the beginning. I knew where the murder took place and the reason behind it. Likewise, I had a clear idea of the ending—where Rae and the killer would face off and how she would triumph.

But the middle was difficult for me. After all, Rae is an amateur sleuth, which limits her ability to question everyone, get forensic evidence, be present at the autopsy, and so on. Yet she needs to drive the action somehow. The middle section of a mystery demands conflict, action, and plenty of clues—both helpful ones and red herrings.

After finally figuring out the middle and completing the book, I vowed that for my second book, I’d know every step of the way before I started to write. Well, guess what? That didn’t happen. Once again, I’m crystal clear on how the crime unfolds and how the culprit is unmasked. In between is a bit murky.

Other writers, too, bemoan the problem of crafting a mid-section that provides conflict, suspense, and continues to drive the action forward. Some call the middle of a novel the muddle. Others refer to a weak middle as mushy or sagging. Weaving in a subplot certainly helps flesh out the story. But it doesn’t solve everything.

So it’s time to take a break from writing and tackle my outline again, punching up the middle so that readers keep on turning the pages.