Friday, Jul 20, 2012

Friday Fix (Craft): Fixing a Sagging Middle

No, I’m not talking about abdominal strength training, although there are parallels. I’m talking about fixing a sagging middle in your novel.

What is a sagging middle? To answer this question, we need first to answer the question, “What is the middle of your novel?

The middle is that section of your story that connects the beginning with the ending. It is that section of your novel where the story actually happens. (For a post I wrote on this topic back in 2010, please go here.)

Most of have no problem with the beginning of our story. We start our writing race with enthusiasm as we fly out of the gate with a strong opening. Most of also don’t have much of a problem ending our story and tying up loose ends. But most of us have challenges writing the middle of the story where we have to keep the tension going as we advance the story.

Dr. Vicki Hinze, in her insightful article entitled Sagging Middles, advises the novelist to think of the middle of her story as “a bridge”. The job of the novelist is “to get the people on the bridge and keep them there until the end of the story.” But if, as Dr. Hinze points out, the bridge can’t hold the weight of the people, then the bridge will sag, or even collapse.

So what is a novelist to do to prevent a sagging middle? Here are some proven tips:

–Increase the conflict by giving your main character more problems and worse ones.I

–Introduce an unexpected happening, like a death or the return of an old enemy.

–Look for places where you can intensify the drama; e.g., in the dialogue or in the setting.

–Add a subplot that will further complicate the protagonist’s situation.
–Expose a hidden secret in your protagonist’s life.

–Introduce a ticking clock that will add tension and keep your reader turning pages.

These are only a few of the many strategies you can use to keep your middle from sagging. What do you do to prevent or fix a sagging middle?

For additional insights, check out the following articles:

• “Firming Up That Sagging Middle” by Lynda Lee Schab

• “Power Abs for Novels” by Darcy Pattison

• “Sagging, Soggy Middles” by Beth Hill


Source Photo: Microsoft Clipart

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2 thoughts on “Friday Fix (Craft): Fixing a Sagging Middle

  1. Raymond Chandler once posited the axiom that when in doubt, have guys with guns break into the room. (Not literally, of course
    * big grin *).

    But Chandler has a good point. I often view the middle act of the story as the time to really ratchet up the conflict, tension and sub-plots. I do this with a combination of chapter hooks that introduce additional complications, and other similar tradecraft.

    This also makes the end easier to write because I have more meat to wrap up those plot threads, just as you pointed out. Great post, MaryAnn!

    July 20, 2012 7:58 PM

    • Thanks for your comment, Jon. I like what you said about viewing the middle of the story as “the time to really ratchet up the conflict, tension and sub-plots.” I especially appreciated your comment that ratcheting up the middle “makes the end easier to write.” This is a very important observation that is often overlooked. Thanks for pointing it out. 🙂



      July 21, 2012 7:21 AM