Do you often suffer from a sagging middle?
I know that sounds like the beginning of an ad or sales pitch for some miracle weight loss or exercise cure but it’s a huge problem for authors.
And no, not because we sit on our butts a lot.
I’m talking about the story that starts perfectly but somewhere in the middle, it starts to gone downhill, things sag, and some writers even throw in the towel.
Most authors know the beginning and ending of their stories, only a handful know the middle part. The part of the story that connects that beginning and ending. The seamless transition that turns a story into a gem.
So, what’s the cure for the sag?
Here are three things I think will help-
Write an Outline
You might have a synopsis all worked out which is great, but I suggest sitting down and working on an outline. All you pantsers are saying, no, no way, but stay with me here.
An outline lets you figure out what’s going where in your story. If you’ve taken my plotting your novel boot camp, you’ll know I follow a screenwriting formula of breaking a story into three acts. Act two is where the sagging middle usually happens so if you have everything pre-planned, writing becomes a breeze.
Act Two is where things seem to be going the character’s way but fate, the antagonist, Mother Nature, you name it, steps up and says, hey, no, not happening. Act two is where your character has to take their determination up a notch or two. Defeat the bad guys, find out who really murdered their friend, or find the lost treasure.
It’s where things can also get complicated for both the character and plot. It’s the edge of the seat type writing. By the end of act two, your reader should be biting their nails and binge reading to the point that bathroom breaks become obsolete…just joking!
The end of act two forces them to continue reading act three where they get all the answers and the payoff for sticking around.
Not Enough Conflict
I sometimes pound my students over the head with this rule, (also just joking), and that’s no conflict, no story, no sell.
If you haven’t got a conflict in a story, then you really don’t have a full well rounded story and you’re going to get a rejection.
Most sagging middles also occur because of lack of conflict. This is where having an outline comes in handy too. Sometimes it allows you to figure out where or why you don’t have enough conflict to go the distance. You maybe even realize you’ve picked something that can be solved in act one…in that case you might be better off going with a short story.
Pick a goal for your character and create enough opposition to stop them getting it and then up it even more. Work that out before you write and the sagging middle is a thing of the past.
Know Your Character
I’ve been working with one private student who’s been struggling with getting past the first couple of chapters of her story. At first I couldn’t figure out why. During one coaching session, I asked her to tell me about her main character, her past, her wants, her needs, what she wants during this story. When I saw the student smile, I knew we’d solved the problem. She hadn’t spent enough time on getting to know this character well enough and it was in fact, making her think she couldn’t write.
It’s also what can cause your middle to sag.
Sit and write a character profile for at least your main one. If you don’t know who they are, what they want then you’re going to lose the forward momentum that every story needs to get written.
And yes, I’ll do a little shameless promoting here. Starting on Monday, May 4th, I’m teaching my Plotting Your Novel boot camp, lessons are through e-mail, read them any time, any day to suit your schedule. You get a workbook, four brainstorm and planning worksheets, and an opportunity, if you like, to work one on one with me to prevent you from having a sagging middle.
Here’s the link, feel free to share it too-