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


Janet Johnson said...

Oh those devious middles. Catching us for too little AND too much action.

Great post! Definitely food for thought.

Erin Kane Spock said...

I resemble that remark.

You know, I do outline. And then I start writing and my outline flies out the window. Then I revise the outline/pacing and the same things happens again. I'm stuck in the saggy middle right now. I think I need a plot twist. Time to update my outline!

Eric W. Trant said...

What book did you read on sagging middles?

That's a good point that sometimes the plot isn't enough to support a book. I recently reduced what I thought was a novel idea into a short story!

And it wasn't even a long short story. I kept trying to add more and more plot stuff, and I eventually had this load of crap and six months wasted when I said: It's just a short story!


On to the next. The good news is that it is an interesting short story that's already found a home.

The point is to realize not all plots/stories can be expanded into a full-length novel.

- Eric

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I always heard the secret to a great book was a great beginning, a great ending, and as little in between as possible.

Those are good questions to ask of a sagging middle though!

Raquel Byrnes said...

The book to which I am refering is: Conflict, Action and Suspense by William Noble.

Its part of a series called: Elements of Fiction Writing.

Eric W. Trant said...

Ah, now I know why that sounded familiar! I read that series. Orson Scott Card and I forget the other guys, some I didn't care much for, especially one guy who was a rote structuralist who put plot before character.

Great series, though. I need to go back and re-read it. My library has it so I never have bought em.

Good post.

- Eric

Jen said...

Great points and some great things to watch for in our own writing. I don't want anyone to be bored in the middle and to only truck through the end because they already invested so much time! Food for thought thank you :)

Laura Marcella said...

Great post! You've pointed out excellent ways to watch out for that sagging middle, even for other genres.