Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Sagging Middle Blues

"My middle sags." These are not vain words said in front of a mirror...that is a whole other post.  These are the words uttered by many a befuddled romance writer.

You have a spectacular beginning to your novel; a compelling hook, riveting main characters, a worrisome conflict...great!  Your ending is excellent with a twist, a resolution - the satisfying all is well, or isn't this ironic last few words.

The problem, you decide, is the stuff in between. The middle of your book is lacking...something. There's no spark, no oomph.

I recently read a book on just this problem. There are a few tell tale signs that your middle either is already, or will soon begin to sag -- horribly.
  • Your hero and heroine spend too much time apart. You know, this little tid bit actually made a light go on in my musty dusty mind. They have to be together to get together.  Oh...okay.
  • Your star-crossed duo get along too well.  There's no tension or uncertainty, no misunderstanding - in other words, "No Heat."
  • Random, pointless crap. Do you write about the morning routine? Driving places? How about a few paragraphs describing boring stuff like what they do at work?  Busy work that doesn't push the plot loses the reader and makes your characters too ordinary.
  • Recapping and redundant conversations. Your reader isn't an idiot. Don't treat them like one. If you already showed something in a scene, you don't need to spend time talking about it, unless it's a really convoluted storyline in which case...sagging probably isn't the problem.
  • Second Fiddle becomes more interesting. If secondary characters, supporting staff, and scenery become the focus of your're in trouble.

The good news is there are some steps to take BEFORE your middle starts to sag that will allow you to side-step the whole horrifying ordeal.  I know that some of the SEAT OF YOUR PANTS writers out there will hate me for this...but OUTLINING, is the best way to avoid this. 

  • The number one reason for a sagging middle is you don't have enough of a plot to support a book.  The romantic subplot doesn't have enough emotional twists and turns, or the main plot is too linear.  An outline can help you see if you need more of one or the other...or if your novel should really be a novella.
  • Now, this may seem backwards, but too much action is another reason middles sag. Doling out the tension systematically...piece by piece, ramping up the stakes just a bit each time, is a more effective way to keep your story exciting and moving.
  • The middle matters in matters of the heart. Use the middle to focus on the romance and the major turning points in the plot.  Don't go off on tangents like side character issues, or backstory. If you know the middle of novels tends to sag...fill it with juicy stuff and it won't.
Now its always good to do these things before your WIP needs major surgery. Sometimes going back in and adding romantic subplots, or story twists opens up a whole avenue you didn't realize you had.  So don't aware...and keep at it!

I will see you all tomorrow for the Dream Sequence Blogfest over at Amalia T's. Until next time...Go Write!

Photograph by sandcastlematt. Photgraph by Daniel E Bruce