Monday, April 5, 2010

Story Structure: Sagging Middles

Last week, someone asked on the American Christian Fiction Writers loop, "what's the deal about story structure?"

A story must have a beginning, middle and an end. Tracy Ruckman addressed strong openings in her January 10th post.

But the vast middle of the story ... that's where the reader can be bored. Even the writer can get bored, wondering if the story is any good, and if she'll ever finish it. A few tricks I've found:

(By the way, if you want a good example of how to maintain tension through a story arc, watch a season of the television show 24.)
  • As soon as one problem is resolved, present another one. In the manuscript (Bride to Love) I just submitted to the editor, the hero isn't certain if he will be able to grow a crop during the Year of No Summer. In the second half, he knows he'll have a crop--but he battles the heroine's father over unfair prices.
  • The new problem may take off at a different angle from the previous one. In one of my unpublished books, set during the Montgomery bus boycott, the pastor hero agonizes over how to support the boycott. After he comes out in support of the boycott, his church--and his family--kick him out. A shift of story line.
  • The new problem may be worse than the previous one. Multi-published and respected author Susan Page Davis uses this approach. "I like the light-at-the-end of the tunnel analogy, although it's not original with me. 'When you think you finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, you realize it's a train coming toward you.'" Escalate the tension throughout the middle.
  • Hold off on resolving the main conflict of the story too soon.

What have you found, whether as a reader or a writer, that maintains your interest throughout a book? If you are struggling through the middle section of a book, maybe we can brainstorm some solutions together.

Darlene Franklin

For anyone interested in a free copy of one of my books, enter book drawings at and


  1. Darlene, it's just like life, nothing ever runs smooth throughout one's time here on earth. If it did, we would be miserable. The same with books. How boring a book is if there is nothing to keep me reading.

  2. That was some great advice. I love the idea of resolutions leading to more questions...I read once to get your main character in trouble...and then get her into even more. Thanks for the post.

  3. Thanks for stopping by, Kathy, Raquel! Hopefully trouble doesn't follow us in real life as closely as it does our fictional characters!

  4. Great topic, Darlene. I was just going over this very topic today. I'm working on avoiding sounding too episodic when upping the tension. When I'm reading I enjoy the twists and the unexpected. By the time I truly get to the middle I like there to be something that really puts a new spin on thing so that the story takes me somewhere that I may not have anticipated.

  5. Thanks for stopping by, Carla! The unexpected is a fun part of reading, isn't it?

  6. This was great advice to read at this moment. I'm doing revisions and trying to avoid common pitfalls...thanks for the post.

  7. Darlene, you're the best. This was an excellent post. Thank you!

  8. I'm glad you found it helpful, Raquel! I need to listen to myself in my current WIP. And, aw, shucks, Sandi, I'm blushing.