Mystery Writing is Murder when you're done here. Her advice is always dead-on (sorry, couldn't resist the pun there) and not just for mystery writers.
Elizabeth’s latest book, Finger Lickin’ Dead, released June 7th. Elizabeth writes the Memphis Barbeque series for Penguin/Berkley (as Riley Adams), the Southern Quilting mysteries (2012) for Penguin/NAL, and the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink. She also runs the Writer's Knowledge Base--the Search Engine for Writers. You can find her on Twitter: @elizabethscraig.
Take it away Elizabeth...
It’s easy to lose focus in the middle of a book. Usually that’s when I start running out of steam—and realizing I still have a long way to go to wrap up my story.
Since I’ve frequently encountered the saggy middle problem, I’ve developed different techniques to help me approach it. Here are some tips that have helped me out in the past:
Sometimes I can visualize the end of the book, and where I’m heading, more easily than I can see how to get there. Once I wrote a story from the ending back to nearly the middle (as close to the middle as I needed to go to get a sense of my story’s roadmap again.)
Up the ante/increase the stakes
I almost always have a second dead body in the middle of my books. Now my protagonist doesn’t just have one murder to solve, she has two. And if she doesn’t figure out who the killer is soon, maybe there’ll be more.
Introduce someone new
This could either be a sidekick who helps your character move in the right direction and provides them with an ear, or someone who provides an obstacle to your protagonist’s reaching his goal. In one of my books, when everything seemed to be going wrong for my sleuth, I introduced someone to help her bounce ideas off of.
Take an established fact that your readers believe to be true and contradict it
In the middle of my book, I nearly always kill the most likely suspect for the first murder.
Pull your character an additional step away from his goal. Maybe you could even lead into it by making it appear that the main conflict of the book was wrapping up before the setback occurs. You could also write in a setback in the protagonist’s personal life (aside from trying to save the world): a job loss, death, or unexpected personal loss of some kind.
Put the protagonist under pressure
This pressure could come in the form of another character, an event that sets the stakes higher, or the introduction of a ticking clock.
Create an interesting scene between two characters (especially a protagonist and antagonist) that propels the plot forward
…possibly by making it appear that what the protagonist most wants is out of his grasp.
Reveal a secret
Or disclose some previously-unrevealed information about your protagonist or a supporting character.
Check in with your subplot
If your main plot is faltering, try working on your subplot for a couple of scenes and see if you can connect the main story afterwards. Or see if you can link the subplot to the main story in some way.
Got saggy middles? How do you deal with them?
About Finger Lickin' Dead
When an anonymous food critic blasts several local restaurants- including Aunt Pat's-Lulu Taylor and her customers are biting mad, especially when they learn that Eppie Currian is the pen name of their friend Evelyn's cheating boyfriend. When "Eppie" gets his own fatal review, the list of suspects is longer than the list of specials at the best BBQ place in Memphis.