Damon Suede's Hot Head remains one of those books I think about a lot, even though I read it a long time ago. It does many things right, but I want to get to the point that I think makes the whole thing work so well from a structural standpoint. This isn't meant to be a review but an analysis on how to write a compelling middle build.
Novels all have roughly the same form, a three-act structure, a beginning/middle/end. The middle is the longest part, and it is the hardest part to get right. Many people call it the "soggy middle," because inexperienced writers tend to use filler to get from the beginning hook to the exciting conclusion.
The story of Hot Head starts with two firefighter friends. The main character develops feelings for the friend. The friend has bankruptcy issues and does some solo work for a uniform gay porn site. The main character is invited to join him to make a lot of extra money.
The way to make a middle build work is to use a cycle of the main character getting closer to the goal followed by failing to get there. It is a sequence of ups and downs where the stakes get raised each cycle. This keeps a steady progression. Soggy middles come from the stakes remaining constant, where the book feels like it is meandering.
Romance novels have obligatory sex scenes. Hot Head combines these try/fail cycles with these sex scenes. This is a clever way to take obligatory scenes and turn them in a unique way. The scenes also have a freshness, because there is an interplay between the main character not wanting the friend to realize how much he enjoys it. He doesn't want the friend to learn that he has fallen for him.
So what makes this middle section work? Well, Damon Suede makes sure the reader understands how the stakes keep rising after each sex scene. The porn director tells the two characters what increasingly intimate activity they will have to do next to get even more money.
Not only do we get tantalized by thinking about the two actually performing the act, we have conflicting emotions about the whole thing. We want the main character to get the satisfaction of doing it, because he really wants to. But we worry if this will be the time he gets caught enjoying it too much. We worry he's developing too one-sided an intimacy.
The stakes raise in such a clear way after each try/fail cycle. This pushes the middle section along at great speed and is what makes the novel work as a whole. Of course, a lot of smaller details bring the characters to life and give the novel much more depth than a mere page-turning excuse for sex. But that wasn't the point of this post.