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Death to the Dreaded Second (Middle) Book Syndrome

This content was originally posted on as part of the Shudder Blog Tour in 2013.

Middle books in a trilogy have gotten a bad rap, particularly in YA. They’re often known to be bland filler, simply a bridge between the first and last books in the series, where not much of anything happens and the characters just kind of, well, stagnate, whittling away the hours while they (and the readers…) wait (im)patiently for Book 3 to come along. Welcome to the dreaded Second Book Syndrome.

Luckily, this doesn’t have to be the case. Here’s a simple 3-step program for breaking through this debilitating disease and crafting a middle book that shines:

1. Focus on pacing. High tension, high action, high excitement – a solid middle book should always have some stimulating event happening or new information being revealed, and not just once, but continuously, throughout the entire book.

In Shudder, I strove to accomplish this using a combination of Alessa and Isaac's action-packed storyline along with the incorporation of some new points of view. While Isaac and Alessa’s narrative had most of the action, their downtime was always used for world building or character development (see #2 below), and the other POVs brought in chilling new information to provide readers with a fuller sense of the plot and give them something to think about – how this society came about, who certain characters really are, what new revelations might be a lie and which are not. With all of this going on, the reader has plenty to keep their mind occupied and the story moves along at a pleasant clip.

2. Development, development, development. Just because it’s a middle book doesn't mean things can come to a standstill. There always needs to be development, both in the characters and the plot.

Shudder focuses mainly on Alessa and Isaac’s character development, showing new facets of their personalities and their relationship with each other, and most importantly, growth – both from how they were in Book 1 and over the course of Book 2. I also progressed the plot by setting the main characters on a quest to accomplish a major feat they will need to challenge their enemies in Book 3 (finding a base for the resistance), but also added new depth to the storyline by bringing in new conflicts (Alessa’s unresolved feelings for Joe, the mysterious creatures stalking her and Isaac, some questionable motivations from Lizzie, and the dilemma of how to stop the virus from killing off Paragon’s children).

3. End with a bang. After all, there’s still one more book left! The second book in a trilogy had better be satisfying in its own right, but should still leave some loose ends to set the stage for what’s to come in Book 3.

In the Stitch Trilogy, Alessa and Isaac’s discovery of the rebel base and rescue of missing characters provides closure to the key plot components of Book 2 – but remember all those secondary conflicts we introduced in #2 above? Those subplots provide just enough information in Book 2 to get the reader guessing as to what could go down in Book 3. And of course, a small cliffhanger at the very end never hurts…

There you have it – a straightforward 3-step program to put Second Book Syndrome down, once and for all. Stay strong, readers and friends. We can win this fight!

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