Some writers dread the middle of a novel. Its an easy place for characters, themes, plots and subplots to get stuck, lost, or to go on unnecessary tangents. The critical reader questions in this post are designed to help reader feedback to support the writer in keeping Act 2 on track, and ensuring it gives the reader a good experience. (I developed them while working with and as a beta reader, and they have companion blogs for Chapter One and an Act 1).
Are the Characters Engaging?
Are you seeing enough of character actions, hearing enough in dialogue and internal thoughts to feel the tension between certain characters?
Have you seen enough of character’s personalities to understand why certain characters are drawn to or inclined to conflict with each other?
Do you react to certain character actions with ‘of course he/ she/ they did!” -because you feel you are getting to know them?
Do you know any characters well enough to guess what they may do next and does this make the story more engaging for you?
Is the Story Engaging?
Does each chapter end by doing at least one of the following:
-adding tension between key players?
-providing another clue in the overall mystery?
-affirming or challenging the lie the pov character believes?
-adding another complication the pov character must overcome to resolve the main conflict? Eg. the character gets something wrong and makes their own life harder.
-moved the pov character nearer to getting what they want, what they need or (if it differs from both) does each chapter take them a step closer to resolving the main story conflict?
Character Development & Plausibility
Can you follow the character’s logic as they persist in believing a lie, or begin to realise the truth?
Do you see and are you convinced by why the character still clings to the lie?
Are you convinced by how characters experiences are changing them?
Are you being shown or reminded of things you’ve already seen (especially when it seems unnecessary?) Or is each scene making you feel like the story is moving forward and drawing you on to its next stage?
If you don’t feel the story is moving, and you’re starting to lose interest -which bits aren’t appealing to you? Do you know why or what the writer could change to resolve this?
Are the relationship dynamics between characters -positive or negative- being tested and changing in some way? Or is everyone getting along perfectly, and are the supporting cast solely focused on helping the MC achieve their goal? -are character relationships too idealistic and or flat?
Occasionally, I’ve beta read books with an Act One mixing serious themes, humour and playfulness, then in Act 2 -boom! The story turns a corner and is suddenly twice as dark or twice as violent as Act 1’s tone led me to think it would be. So are you jolted by how light or heavy, how serious or playful, how gentle or violent later chapters are, compared to earlier ones?
Does the story home in on particular themes, particular relationships and particular character goals?
Does it focus on too many things for you to follow or appreciate?
Or does it focus only on one or two main things, when there’s room and other things you’d like to see further developed to give you a real sense of payoff for reading?
If the characters went to that place, or the MC was given that thing, or we know a secondary character loves x -does the middle of the story start referring back to these things and building on them?
Does the secondary character’s knowledge because of an interest you’ve already read about, or skills from a hobby mentioned in an earlier scene start helping the MC tackle aspects of the story problem?
Does the location where we met key players later yield clues in solving the murder, or is it a place about which we know family secrets are kept or where other allies are now being sought?
If there something about a character, a place, a device etc that got your interest, but hasn’t been developed in the middle of the story and that you would like to see more of?
Can you picture who is where, doing what? Or are there so many details that you lose sight of the main actions in the scene?
Are you hanging on the edge of your seat, reading short, sharp sentences which narrate the scene at the speed it unfolds? Or is some of the suspense and tension killed by long winded sentences?
As a reader or a writer, if you think there’s anything important I’ve missed about the middle of a story, please comment below!