Middles don’t get much love. Middle of the road suggests lack of commitment, of enthusiasm. Who wants to be the monkey in the middle? Was middle school, or was it not, the most excruciating part of your education? Middle-aged – eh. Middle finger? Not very polite. The very definition of “middling” is “mediocre,” after all. Then there’s midlist. We all know that a respectable midlist book is something to be proud of – but still, with the business of publishing going as it is, midlist is not the stuff that dreams are made of, as this depressing-though-interesting Salon article describes in gruesome detail.
People remember (and go to great lengths to discuss) beginnings and endings. The beginning of the fabulous novel, the opening line that hooked and wouldn’t let you go. The ending of a book that disappointed, or blew your mind, or haunted you. The beginning of the relationship, how your eyes met in the crowded room, how giddy you were with possibility. The ending of the relationship, the exact moment you said the thing that you couldn’t take back, the grim practicalities of sorting and separating.
But middles are what it’s all about. It’s day to day life. The showing up and doing your chores. Trying to be kind, and to learn a little something. The going, not the dramatic setting off or the long-awaited getting there. The middle makes up the core of any story. In the classic three act structure, it’s act two. The character faces confrontation and conflict. She’s given obstacles. She struggles. She’s tested and we see what she’s made of. Ultimately, the middle is what makes or breaks a story, what keeps those pages turning.