Book series, whether it’s a trilogy or longer, are popular in the literary world. After book one, readers want to continue on with the story and characters. They want to see what happens next. However, writing the next book – to use a cliché – is easier said than done.
For this reason, often the following books within a series aren’t always as good as the first, especially the second novel within a trilogy. Many times the second novel in a trilogy is seen as the bridge between an extraordinary beginning (the first book) and a heart-wrenching ending (the third book).
The middle book is a transition between the start and finish, and often times doesn’t include as much drama, excitement, and action as the first and third novel. Instead of increasing the tension from the first novel, the second book’s plot drags. The thrill wears off, and the characters become tiring.
Did you know that there’s a term for this phenomenon?
Middle Book Syndrome
(Aka Sagging Middle Syndrome)
Basically, this occurrence results from weak plot structure. In other words, the writer didn’t lay out how the trilogy was supposed to go. This could have taken the form of in-depth planning or a one-page synopsis for each novel. However, if the writer only saw the very beginning and then figured the rest of the story would come to him later, this tends to create an implausible story overall, since the steps leading to the finish are fuzzy. (If the writer can’t see the steps from the starting line to the finish, neither will the readers.)
Granted, the second book can be more challenging to write than the first and last. In the first book, the story and everyone in it needs to be introduced, and if the genre is fantasy/science fiction, a new world must be brought to life. Everything is new.
In the final novel, tension is ratcheted up. Readers are looking at battles and deaths and any other sort of excitement that leads to the massive climax.
The middle book must somehow maintain and increase tension, while not leading to the conclusion. The second novel already has many of the puzzle pieces from the first novel. More pieces will be introduced, but a good chunk must be reserved for the final book. Therefore, the puzzle has to continue to be put together in the second book without showing readers the entire picture.
Not so easy to do.
One way to prevent middle book syndrome is to remember cause and effect. Each action has a reaction. Everything a character does causes something else to occur. Cause and effect allows each piece of a novel series to be part of a whole. (To see more about how “every part of a novel should be integral to the whole,” click on the “Sagging Middle Syndrome” link above. For more on how to write a trilogy, check out “How to write a book trilogy: 5 crucial steps”.)
I am currently working on a trilogy, and for each question I introduce in my first novel (plot, subplots) I record it on a separate document. Therefore, I’ll know which strings I have to continue with while writing the second book. Having this other document also helps me to remember what questions I’m introducing, so that I won’t have awkward loose ends.
Added to that, I know how I want the trilogy to end, and am currently working on a one-page synopsis for my middle book. The story might change as I get deeper into the trilogy. My first novel certainly has, but it helps to have the big picture, and some of the smaller, connecting pieces, so that I can work on cause and effect.
What do you think? Ever read any trilogies/series that had the middle book syndrome?
(Photo courtesy of Richard Binhammer.)