Dear Writer Guy,
I always get stuck in the middle of my books. I write like twenty chapters and then I get writer’s block. Do you have any advice?
A sagging middle sometimes results from not having a challenging enough goal for your hero to achieve, or not throwing enough conflict into his/her path. Other times, the problem is a too-passive hero — one who merely reacts to the events of the story, rather than driving the narrative by facing conflict, overcoming obstacles, and taking action to achieve a goal.
In both cases, the problem springs from character and conflict.
If your character starts out passive, figure out early on how the story incidents will transform them from passive to active. Passive characters don’t make serviceable heroes. But active ones keep pushing towards their goal, failing, and persisting — which is what keeps readers reading (and the plot progressing).
When it comes to conflict, your story’s tension should continue to rise throughout. You want your hero getting into progressively more difficult situations that force him/her to really dig deep and make hard choices. Ideally, at the end, your hero faces their biggest fear, making the most difficult choice of all. I know, I know. This is easy to say, but tricky to pull off. Here’s one way you might approach it…
Once you’ve identified the hero’s central problem or goal, have them try the easiest action possible to achieve it. When that fails, they try the next hardest, and so on. (Though not as linearly as I’m describing it.) If you’ve constructed your character properly, the challenge they face at the climax will have them making a choice that puts them right up against their greatest weakness and forces them to do the one thing they really don’t want to do.
And if you’re able to pull that off, I’m willing to bet you will have given your saggy story middle some “power abs” and pushed through to the end.