Avoid the Sagging Middle in Your Next Novel: Lessons from The Walking Dead


How to Keep the Middle of Your Novel From Sagging: Lessons from The Walking DeadDon’t let the reader get bogged down in the middle of your book

Do you watch The Walking Dead on AMC? If not, I’ll catch you up: it’s part zombie apocalypse, part Poseidon Adventure, with a sprinkling of Lord of the Flies, Lost, Survivor, and Unforgiven.

For the first couple of seasons, I was hooked. Then I read the comic books that the show is based on — reading well beyond the point at which the TV series had left off. From that vantage I could really see how much — say the 3rd season — was dragging, dragging, dragging — stretching what was probably 50 pages of comic book plot into thirteen 45-minute episodes. A big let-down.

But the real problem with the TV adaptation that season wasn’t necessarily that it got stretched, but that everyone — viewers, critics, readers of the comic book, even the characters in the show — knew precisely where the plot was headed at the end of that stretch. So while there were a few minor twists and turns along the way, the eventual outcome seemed certain. And every episode that passed without that event occurring felt not like an intensification of suspense, but yet another let-down.

So without risking the same long sag in this article, I’ll get right to the point: don’t let the middle of your novel drag.

Writers spend so many hours crafting great beginnings and endings. They’re usually not as careful with the middle — and, as author SJ Rozan says, the middle is why we read books.

So here are 4 things to keep in mind as you journey through the middle of your own novel-writing experience and how not to let the middle of your novel drag:

1) If the structure of your story is pre-determined, don’t linger on any one plot point longer than you need to. Tell it well and move along.

2) Similarly, make sure every “scene” that happens in the middle of your book heightens the drama — and don’t be afraid to trim the fat. If you find that you’re including some description or diversion just to be clever, don’t.

3) If the plot is unfolding as you write it, make sure you’re surprising yourself.  No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.

4) With eBooks, stories can be any length, and novellas are back in style. If your book only wants to be 90 or 140 pages — let it be!


How do you make sure the middle of your novels keep readers interested? How do you go deep into a story without losing momentum? Let us know in the comments section below.

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The End

Chris Robley is an award-winning poet, songwriter, performer, and music producer who now lives in Portland, Maine after more than a decade in Portland, Oregon. His music has been praised by NPR, the LA Times, the Boston Globe, and others. Skyscraper Magazine said he is “one of the best short-story musicians to come along in quite some time.” Robley’s poetry has been published or is forthcoming in POETRY, Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Beloit Poetry Journal, RHINO, Magma Poetry, and more. He is the 2013 winner of Boulevard's Poetry Prize for Emerging Writers and the 2014 recipient of a Maine Literary Award in the category of "Short Works Poetry."



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