If you’re a middle child, you’re most likely the peacekeeper of the family with a penchant for loyalty. Your older sibling tends to be an over-achiever who assumes leadership positions, and your younger sibling is the creative one who can be on the manipulative side. Does any of this sound familiar?
These are traits psychologists have attributed to birth order. You’ve probably also heard of Middle Child Syndrome, a philosophy that children who fall in the middle of the birth order can often be resentful of their place in life and their siblings. Anyone remember Jan from the Brady Bunch, wailing “Marcia! Marcia! Marcia!” (Visualize the foot-stomping that goes with this). Middles sometimes feel like the odd one out.
But, because of their birth order, middles are often more inclined to be independent, empathetic, and become skilled negotiators able to bring about compromise.
So why am I talking about birth order on a blog devoted to writing? Stick with me a minute—have you ever written a series?
The first book takes a leadership role. It sets the tone and stage, establishing setting and the characters who will become family and friends for the reader. It’s sparkly and new, often with a lot of fanfare to accompany its launch. The last book gets attention for wrapping up plot threads and—hopefully— leaves readers oohing and aahing over a satisfying conclusion.
But what about the middle child?
If you’re writing a series with an ongoing story arc, the middle is an opportunity to leave readers dangling in suspense (The Empire Strikes Back anyone?). If, however, you’re writing a series where each book serves as a standalone, the middle child has other challenges.
You need to carry through on continuity from book one, delivering elements and characters readers are familiar with. In addition, you need to foreshadow the story arc and characters for the final chapter (assuming you’re writing a three-book series)—all of this while delivering a fully fleshed story for book two.
As an author currently writing the second book of my second series (got that?), I’ve discovered a special fondness for the middle child. I loved all three books in my Point Pleasant series (what author doesn’t like their own work?) but the second book remains my favorite. I’m also currently in love with the second book of my Hode’s Hill series and have a feeling it may turn out to be my favorite as well.
When you’re writing a series there’s a lot to be said for easing into the second book. The setting is already established and many of the characters are familiar to the reader. That’s a huge plus. Being in a grounded world puts you immediately on firm footing. Ah, but what about those readers who weren’t with you for book one? Who decided to pick up book two on its own merits?
Now you’ve got provide enough history from the first book—in a manner that doesn’t come off like an information dump—while keeping it brief enough not to bore the readers who were with you for round one. Tricky, yes?
Your main characters, who likely played a secondary role in book one, are now center stage. But returning readers fell in love with your MCs from the first novel, so you can’t neglect bringing them back in a supporting role. On the plus side, you know these guys. You’ve worked with them before, and after 75K to 85K, should be able to dump them in any situation and know how they’ll respond. Even so, they’re background.
This is the middle child stepping into the leadership role. A book that demands its own story and its own special set of MCs. As an author, it’s time to rewire the brain and shift focus. In a novel, many readers find the middle of a book will sometimes drag. I see that often in reviews. You don’t want your series to drag any more than you want your novel to drag. The middle book should be approached with the same enthusiasm as the sparkly new beginning, and fanfare wrap-up ending.
Middles are special. They’re the bridge joining everything together. You may just find they even become stars that surpass the start and/or conclusion, and fit in just fine.
If you’ve written a series, what challenges have you faced with the middle? Do you find it harder to write the middle than the preceding and closing books? If you haven’t written a series, can you see yourself undertaking one, and what do you perceive to be the greatest hurdles? Let’s get some discussion going!