Believe me, I feel the pain of that middle section of every book I write, just like everyone else...but with practice, I've learned a few techniques to get around it. In fact, at every writing conference I attend, I always choose to sit in on the workshops that tackle this issue. The following are various tips I’ve found to be the most helpful:
1) Raise the stakes. We all do this at the beginning of the book, but sometimes an unexpected twist midway through that makes the protagonist's goal that much more important can help you get through the middle. Things like a compressed timeline--a deadline that is now even shorter--or involving someone else, like a loved one, who is affected by your protagonist's actions can add a richer element to the plot and keep the story moving forward.
2) Throw a curveball. Have your protagonist realize that the goal they've been chasing is the wrong one and have them switch focus. Alternately, you can make the goal harder to attain or remove it entirely, forcing your character to go in a different direction.
3) Cripple your hero/heroine. In almost every story, the protagonist has things they can depend on...things helping them achieve their goal. Take these away. Remove allies--maybe their closest friend betrays them or leaves them. Or remove an ability they rely on (e.g., They are a runner and they break a leg).
4) Switch characters. If a particular scene in the middle isn't working, remove a supporting character and replace them with the least likely character you would have normally chosen to put in the scene. Watch it take the plot in a direction you'd never have thought of!
5) Change the tempo. Write shorter, fast-paced scenes in the middle.
6) Switch POV. If a scene isn’t moving the storyline along, it is not needed in the story. If you feel that a scene is necessary to your plot isn't driving the storyline further as much as you would like, a switch in POV might be required.
7) Skip over it. I know we've all been told that writing out of order is a bad thing--but it works just fine for me. Often, I know what scenes NEED to happen in the book, the ones that really drive the plot, the ones that excite me...so I write them first. I always know the ending as I begin a book, so usually I write it before the middle and then work backwards. For example, in book two of my series, I needed the heroine to be in her garage (she's a mechanic) toward the last scene of the book in order to make the ending work, so I wrote that scene, then figured out what scenes needed to happen before it to get her there. (She had forgotten something...so I needed to figure out what she'd forgotten and how that item got there in the first place...and so on...)
I hope these techniques were helpful, and I'd love to hear your feedback about your own techniques for avoiding a saggy middle! Please leave your comments below for a chance to win a copy of my new November release, The Trouble With Mistletoe, the first book in my Brookhollow series (releasing through Harlequin Heartwarming).