Last week, the UE authors shared tips on how to recognize the dreaded Sagging Middle. This week, we have tips for how to firm that Sagging Middle.
1. Move forward and work on the next key scene, moving back to the sagging middle once the pace has picked up.
2. Be ruthless and cut out any dialogue that does not move the plot forward.
3. Re-visit the plan and timescale and adjust accordingly. If writing ‘into the mist’, plot out the rest of the book by logging at least the main points of conflict.
Plan for the climax. i.e. re-read your chapters and see if you have a blend of dialogue, conflict and character development to help set-up your fulfilling ending.
Ask yourself if the character’s experiences are leading up to who you want him/her to be by the end.
Ask yourself if you’re staying true to the story or following rabbit trails? You may need to re-familiarize yourself with your time-line, through-line or summary… or if you don’t have one of those re-connect why you wanted to write this story.
Go through with a firm hand – and a red pen – and cut any and all scenes; bits of dialogue; description, etc, that do not either move the plot along or advance the romance. Do you love a scene more than you love the story? It’s time to be tough.
Deepen the main conflict. This can be done by revealing a ‘secret’; introducing a new secondary character; or, my favorite, killing someone off. :)
Tear them apart! Don’t let your hero/heroine become a happy couple too soon. They can’t admit they’re in love … or if they do, through an obstacle between them. The happy ending has to be just that – an ending, not a middle.
1. Give them another problem to overcome.
2. Introduce an antagonist.
3. Beef up the beginning of the story so the middle doesn’t have a chance to sag.
Come up with some extra crag to the story that is totally unexpected – a character, an event that mixes everything up a bit.
Make sure you are showing what has happened instead of having a character tell or think about it.
Keep sight of your main characters – what is their emotional level at this point and utilize that to stir the story up.
Sherry (Shara) Jones
Tip Number One: Once you resolve a conflict, introduce another conflict to increase the stakes.
Tip Number Two: Change the POV to reveal a different perspective on the conflict, introducing a fresh spin or to reveal new information.
Tip Number Three: Make the reader care. Up the emotional stakes to show character growth.
Can anything change in the current setting/situation of your characters? Should it change? If it should, how should it change, for the better for the character? For the worse? How would a change affect the following scenes but still bring them to the happy ending you have planned?
Have the characters grown or learned anything from the previous experiences, or are they just repeating the same actions and saying the same words?
Are all the scenes actually needed to move the story forward? Do we need to know that aunt Mildred feeds her cat Princess every morning at 8:05? If not, painful as it may be, remove the scene. (Aunt Mildred really is much happier feeding her cat in anonymity anyway.)
Some questions to consider about your Sagging Middle:
1. How does this move the story forward? Am I saying it in the best possible manner?
2. Is the conflict strong enough to carry the story through? Am I bringing the conflicts (internal and external) towards resolution in a realistic and well-paced manner?
3. Have I gotten off track? Am I chasing down a scenic rabbit trail? Do I need to go back and remove any scenes to a "choppity chop" file in order to get the story back to where it needs to be?
Pace and punch – have a read for pace and punch and see if you’re lacking. Pace and punch are key drivers in writing and if you lose them you can let your story go off the boil.
Is the piece emotional? Are you losing sight of what matters to your characters? Remember emotion is the key seller and if you haven’t ‘dug into/tuned in’ enough you may be losing the heart of the story.
Don’t be afraid to skip it – sometimes if you hit a block you just need a ‘breather’ to get to clear writing space. If skipping the hard part and coming back helps you find your mojo – then do it. Remember – getting the first draft down is the important part. Better to skip and finish than to leave a piece of work languishing because you got stuck in the middle.
Jot a timeline through the middle of the story, and chart each character’s progress.
Determine if each scene is needed—can you cut a whole scene without interrupting the flow?
Jot down a summary of your ending. Will the middle you have now support that?
1. Now is the time to reveal some information that will give the reader better insight into the characters. Make sure there is something new, not just a rehash.
2. Always a good time for a plot twist. Send the ho-hum, everything’s hunky-dory plot in a new direction.
3. Up the emotion between the hero and heroine in every encounter.
* Play the ‘what if’ brain-storm game with some weak scenes. What if so-and-so dies, what if she finds out he killed someone. This can help you to increase the tension and suspense often lacking in ‘middles’.
* Read your work aloud. This helps you to catch repeated words, clichés and obstacles that draw away from the story.
* Leave your computer and invest in some ‘thinking time’ in your plot as a whole. Perhaps your characters need to move in another direction from where you are taking them. If you hit on something interesting, go with even if it isn’t where you envisioned the story to be.
Plan to zip one or more of your characters into a new setting. This can freshen things up for both you and the reader (not to mention the characters!)
Keep the background info and flashbacks at a minimum.
Make sure there’s plenty of action and developments to keep things moving and to keep the reader wanting to know what happens next.
1) If your characters are the problem, interview them. Write down several questions about their history, likes/dislikes, primary motivators, and the like. See what they “say” to you and use it to jazz up the middle chapters in your tale.
2) Consider your setting. For characters, like real people, a change of scene can be quite invigorating. Are they in the country? Give them a compelling reason to travel into the city. Are they getting burned out by the stresses of urban life? Give them a reason to take a break for a day and rediscover each other.
3) I’ve found I tend to draw out “travel” scenes way too much. Sometimes when these scenes happen in the middle of a book, I find I can cut pages down to a paragraph or two and nothing is lost—quite the opposite. The spark comes back.
1. Distractions R Us:
Turn off the internet. No, really. Do it now. Close the browser. Step away from your email. Do not answer the persistent call of your friends’ IMs. Turn off the television and the phone. Set the timer. Write some crap for a set amount of time, no matter what. No, you don’t need to clean the toilet today. It will just get dirty again, anyway, and you’ve got a sagging middle (and perhaps a deadline) to shore up. Spousal unit and/or kids can order pizza today. You’ve got a novel to save!!!!
2. What If:
There are probably as many ways to play this game as there are writers. I have a couple of ideas for you.
What if…Nora Roberts/Sandra Brown/Debbie Macomber/Lori Foster, etc. were writing this book? What would happen next? See where this is going? If you write cozy sweet novels and your middle is just sagging and you don’t know what should happen next, pretend you are J.D. Robb or Janet Evanovich. What would she throw in here to spice things up? A dead body? An exploding car? A second love interest? The more different from your own style, the better. Jot the ideas down and get your juices flowing.
Still can’t think of a thing? If you just can’t figure out what to type and you’ve gotten rid of your distractions (see Idea #1), I’ll let you get back on IM or the phone and call your best writing pal for help. Now, you have to work. No gossip or complaining about the spousal units. You are going to play the “what if” game, and it really helps to get someone else to help, because they will come up with some wild ideas you would never think of. After all, your heroine just wouldn’t do that. Or would she? What if she did, and …
3. Now hang up and get back to writing. After you’ve played a couple of creativity games with yourself, you’ll filter those outrageous ideas and find something that fits with your style and your book. Happy writing!