You lost your momentum. Your once exciting story feels like it’s gone off the rails somehow. The great beginning gave way to a floundering middle and you don’t know why. It’s frustrating and worrisome but don’t despair. This is a common, fixable problem.
So you’ve written a novel, but something is not quite right. You have a spectacular beginning to your story; a compelling hook, riveting main characters, and a worrisome conflict. Great! Your ending is excellent with a twist, with a killer resolution – the satisfying all is well or isn’t this ironic last few words.
The problem, you decide, is the stuff in between. The middle of your book is lacking something. There’s no spark, no oomph.
Here are 5 tell-tale signs that your plot is losing steam.
1. Your main characters spend too much time apart.
This little tid-bit actually made a light go on in my head when I realized that the subplot was keeping my main characters apart for a large portion of the book. Doesn’t matter if they’re romantically involved or resolving a different type of relationship. They have to be together to get together. You need time to build tension and your characters need time to resolve their conflict.
2. Your main character isn’t stressed out.
Conflict is the key to a good story. It creates tension and drama. If your main character is happy and comfortable they are also boring. Whether it’s an arch nemesis sabotaging them at every turn or a love interest that is out of reach, your main character has to suffer. Throwing conflicts in front of them also shows what they’re made of, how deep their desire goes for a given outcome, and what the stakes are. These revelations not only drive a story, they push your character along their arc of development.
3. Random, pointless details.
Do you write about the morning routine? Driving places? How about a few paragraphs describing boring stuff like what they do at work? Busy work that doesn’t push the plot loses the reader and makes your characters too ordinary. Remember that your book is an escape for your readers. Only use the day to day if it’s significant. For example; if they don’t do something that later on proves a mistake. Then it’s a plot point.
4. Recapping and redundant conversations.
Your reader isn’t dumb. Don’t treat them like they are. If you already showed something in a scene, you don’t need to spend time talking about it, unless it’s a really convoluted storyline in which case sagging probably isn’t the only problem.
5. Second Fiddle becomes more interesting.
If secondary characters, supporting staff, and scenery become the focus of your book you’re in trouble. Quirky side-kicks, sassy best friends, the Beta-Male/friend are all essential, but be aware of those characters taking over. Avoid this by limiting their backstory to only what is relevant to the plot.
But wait. There is hope. Here are some steps to take BEFORE your plot starts to slow that will allow you to side-step the whole horrifying ordeal. I know that some SEAT OF YOUR PANTS writers out there will hate me for this, but OUTLINING, is the best way to check for signs of trouble. An outline of your plot will help you see some essential components you might be missing.
Make sure you have a book-length plot. The number one reason for losing steam halfway through a story is that you don’t have enough of a plot to support a book-length manuscript. The subplot doesn’t have enough emotional twists and turns or the main plot is too linear. An outline can help you see if you need more of one or the other or if your novel should really be a novella or short story.
Make sure you limit the action. This may sound backwards, but too much action and your book becomes frenetic and hard to follow. Doling out the tension systematically, piece by piece, ramping up the stakes just a bit each time is a more effective way to keep your story exciting.
The middle matters in matters of the heart. Use the middle to focus on the romance or the relationship issues between characters. Make sure they contribute to major turning points in the plot. Don’t go off on tangents like side character issues, or backstory. If you know the middle of novels tends to sag fill it with juicy stuff and it won’t.
Now it’s always a good idea to do check for these problems before your WIP needs a major overhaul. Sometimes going back in and adding subplots or adjusting the pace can fix your novel, but that can be frustrating. Bypass lengthy revisions by simply planning ahead and employing these strategies to avoid a plot that runs out of steam.