Sagging Middles

No, I’m not talking about that little pooch hovering around your middle. I’m talking about the drawn out middle section of your work-in-progress.

You’ll know if you have one:
Is there a certain chapter driving you mad? Giving you all kinds of problems? A certain character who won’t get in line and do as you want him to? Is the writing slow and choppy? Have you edited it a thousand times over and *still* something doesn’t seem right about it?

If you answered YES then your problem most likely is not that chapter or character or scene that is “sticking”…it’s the sagging middle pulling down other threads of your story. The plot should roll. Fast. (Although I struggled in my own WIP to make certain parts PERFECT, and rewrote them {and rewrote them over and over again}, I honestly felt like I was still in the beginning throws of my book, still tossing conflict at the characters, still building their relationships, when I suddenly realized I had to start wrapping things up. I started panicking that I didn’t have enough room to finish the growth that the characters so needed.)

So how do you stop the middle of your book from sagging?

Use the Three Act Structure.
Use GMC: Goal, Motivation, Conflict. (Although I prefer reading it straight from Deb Dixon.
Remember Vogler’s Hero’s journey.

Those are great tools. If you’re still stuck, here’s a quick checklist you can go through to be sure your middle doesn’t sag:

1-Characters aren’t drifting through–make sure they have solid, clear goals.

2-Are characters getting closer to those goals? Or closer to realizing what they are, at the very least?

3-Are all scenes ending with the characters’ needs being met? THEY SHOULDN’T BE. Do you always get what you want? No. Neither do I. Neither should your characters. It complicates things and that’s exactly what you want.

4-Do you have unexpected twists and turns? Some event that takes the story in a different direction? (And side note: what would happen if that event pushed your character into a corner?)

5-Are your emotional stakes high enough in the middle? Do they escalate?

6-How’s your pacing? Is it choppy and quick? Or long winded and dreary? Speed things up by creating a sense of urgency, not just with your words, but with your sentence structure.

7-Are there dead weight scenes? Find THREE purposes to keep the scene in your work-in-progress. If you can’t find three VALID reasons, HACK IT.

8-Is your writing cliche-driven? Does your plot have predictable patterns? Change things up. Lead the readers a certain direction in your chapter or scene, then end it COMPLETELY DIFFERENTLY.

How’s your middle looking now?


3 thoughts on “Sagging Middles

  1. Lindsay–I just checked my cut-out chapter for Immortal, Beloved. It's 80 pages long. I think I might've rewritten every other chapter in the whole darn book. But it's turned out GREAT and I'm the edit-as-I-go type so at this point I shouldn't have much more to edit–just fine tuning.Jamie–Thanks! I use the three act structure too with major turning points at the beginning of each stage. I use Vogler's hero journey when I craft my characters just to make sure they have the right arch and are going in the right places. It's good to have as a reference in the back of your mind while writing.

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