Sagging Middle Syndrome: How to Up the Conflict

Between the gripping first chapters and the heart wrenching climax, there is inevitably a low point. The sagging middle syndrome. We’ve all written, heck, we’ve all read it. It’s that point in the story where the author needs to add critical foundational elements upon which the entire plot rests. How to do it without the entire story dragging?


Dial Up the Drama: Internal Conflict


Let’s be honest. The world is full of drama. Everyone and their mama has drama to stir in the pot. What makes you think your story is any different? To me, one of the purposes of storytelling is reflect what is happening in our world in a way that provokes thought, dialogue and in many ways hold a mirror to ourselves. Stories are easier to digest than our own lives, so it’s job then, is reflect our reality back at us. One way to do this is by internal conflict.


internal conlict

Make your protagonist waver back and forth as they struggle to come to grips with and overcome their internal struggle.

  • What is your character afraid of?

Let’s be honest. We all have an inward battle raging within us every day. We all fear something (whether we do it consciously or not), it does not erase the fact that it is there. What makes your protagonist any different? Showcase their fear and put it in direct conflict with the aim of the story or the actions necessary in order bring about the climax.

For example (just go with me here, lol):

Your character is deathly afraid of cats. They had a bad experience as a child that left them utterly petrified. Their whole lives, they went out of their way to avoid the four legged menace and became physical incapacitated whenever faced with them.

But, hark! Egad! An ancient prophecy has come true and a centuries old, Ancient Egyptian, menace has stolen their family away and all they hold dear. Your protagonist gears up for battle only to find out that the Cat Goddess (Bast) walks the earth once again! What do they do? WHAT DO THEY DO?

It’s a silly example, but you get the point!

  • What secrets are your protagonists harboring?

We all have our secrets. So much so, that if someone were to find some of them out, we would be utterly devastated. Again, the same goes for our characters.

Caution: in order for this to work, the secret has to hold merit. It has to be something with real consequences that risks either the

  1. safety,
  2. peace of mind,
  3. sense of self, or
  4. a relationship held in esteem.

External Conflict: Among Allies


heated exchange in the sagging middle


No man is an island. If you’re protagonist is a lone wolf, this more indicative of a weakness than actual strength. With that being said, that does not mean interpersonal relationships are free of conflict. In fact, drama abounds all the more!

One way to bandage a sagging middle is to showcase and ramp up the division between allies. No two people are alike. We each face the world with our own perceptions of reality and not all alliances are formed for mere friendship.

  • Strong Personalities: One is a prodigy and other is a gift less hack. One works diligently to win the approval of their superiors while the other struggles to even grasp the first concept. One thinks the other is a show off and overbearing prude. While the other thinks one is a condescending, backstabbing defiler. One works to undermine the other and one works to torment the other. Now they’ve created a rift that threatens to dismantle the very fabric of existence. What to they do? Pit your character’s personalities against each other. Not only will it add tension in an amazing way, but the payoff is all the more satisfying when they learn to work together; or more devastating when they can’t resolve their differences.
  • Squabbles: the team wins a major victory and is awarded a trophy. A few argue over who should keep it because of each individual’s merit and their contribution to the success. While one thinks that it may be an enemy surveillance device, cleverly disguised to gather information. This not only adds conflict, but also builds tension via a possible threat. What is great about this as well, is sometimes, petty squabbles lead to even greater battles until what started the argument in the first place takes a backseat to the new and festering hatred between characters. This would show not only amazing realism but a fantastic way to develop your character’s character even more.
  • Mismatched Goals: a war breaks out and threatens the security of the land. What do you do? You need allies. You join forces to fight the great foe but your end goals are all different. One nation wants to quell the resistance and bring everyone back under subjection, just to continue to rule and live as always before. Another nation wants to destroy all those who would dare raise up against their rulers. The last nation wants to capture the resistance and control it; using it as a weapon for the future. How does your team negotiate this? This is a wonderful source of conflict!
  • Deep-Seated Mistrust: two or more otherwise enemy factions coming together for the greater good is a recipe for disaster. What makes you think your character can avoid this? Think of someone you dislike. If it was suddenly, thrust upon you to join them, would you? Would go into it trusting them completely? With your life? No! This makes for amazing tension that would certainly keep your readers engaged while you develop the overarching plot!


External Conflict: Enemies

Beyond the infighting amongst team members, there is the obvious fight with enemies. Truth is, this can either be your main villain or it can be another, totally unrelated antagonist. The main point here, is to make the antagonist/villain’s goals and methods directly conflict with those of the hero.

  • Someone Your Hero Hurt: if you’re doing it right, your hero shouldn’t be perfect. Everyone has a past and so should your hero (preferably prior to the start of the story). They will have inevitably hurt someone, knowingly or not. Introduce this character and watch the havoc unleash. For example: in the television show, Xena: Warrior Princess, Xena was warlord before the show began. She pillaged and plundered in a wake of devastation. Once upon a time, she burned down the village a little girl named, Calisto, lived in. Years went by, and Xena didn’t even remember anything about it. Calisto showed up one day and brought death and pain to Xena’s life and became her greatest foe in the long run.
  • The Sagging Middle: Drama


  • Someone Who Hurt the Hero: Your hero’s baby sister is murdered in her crib, three days after she is born. The murderer was never found. Six months after the hero’s mystical training begins, the murderer shows up and reveals their identity. Our hero is hell-bent on revenge even though its obviously a trap.


External Conflict: Circumstances

Sagging Middle Syndome


People don’t just fight each other. There are all sorts of natural disasters waiting to challenge your hero. Disasters work well for characters that are on journeys but not its not limited to it. Consider severe weather phenomenon that puts a hamper o travel plans or causes another conflict on the time constraints.

Resources may become scarce and threaten the lives of your heroes. If your hero is starving how can they fight in the tournament? If the magic fairy dust is running low, how can Tinker Bell fly back to Neverland?!



So there you have it! Ideas on how to fix your sagging middle. Did I miss anything? Can you think of any other ways to fix your sagging middle? Drop me a line in the comments below. Until next time G-Nation, Genesys Out!