The Writing Process 2015: The Dreaded Sagging Middle

These posts are a chance to share my journey through my latest novel, When We Were Sisters, starting at ground zero. Today let’s talk about the dreaded sagging middle.

sagging middleJust so you know? I have nothing valuable to say about diets, aging or new exercises to tighten your abs. But since I’m in the middle third of my latest novel, I thought I might share a few thoughts about that.

Many authors find that beginning a book is like beginning a love affair. Everything feels fresh and new. Every sentence builds excitement. We fling our arms wide to embrace possibility. We are blind to obvious problems, sure they’ll just melt away.

By the time we end a book we’re exhausted. Not everything worked out the way we hoped. Some of our most promising paths ended in detours and dead ends. Characters we thought we understood revealed surprising new depths. Villains were heroic. Heroes were flawed. Wonderful ideas had to be tucked away for another book.

Still, endings are fun. Tying up a story is both a sad goodbye and a surge of satisfaction. If we manage both, we’ve probably done our job.

The middle is a different kettle of fish. I don’t use the expression lightly. We’ve caught an entire school of fish (characters, plot threads, subplots, themes, situations) and we’ve thrown them together. Now it’s our job to hook the ones that don’t belong and chuck them back into the ocean, so that the fish we’ve left behind will have room to swim.

Think goldfish, and a very large kettle.

While I’m a fan of outlines, for my last few books my outlines have been loose, to say the least. Instead I’ve made a file I call “Scenes and Revelations” and listed ideas as they occur to me, organizing a bit when I need to. I start with a clear idea of the beginning and ending plus many scenes in the middle. But a sagging middle is all too common in novels. The excitement ends abruptly. The direction is unclear. Readers forget to pick the book up again and move on to another.

So my job now is to keep When We Were Sisters racing right along. I know scenes, but I don’t know exactly what order they’ll appear in. How I’ll weave them all together. How I’ll maintain excitement and conflict so my readers make it to that ending we already discussed.

How I’ll keep the book from being hijacked by pirates.

And yes, it happens. Some beginnings are so much fun, so exciting to write, that by the time we authors get to the middle, we find we have a completely different book in front of us. Pirates crept on board when we weren’t looking, and now it’s our job to tame them so we can sail that ship straight through troubled waters into port with a minimum number of characters walking the plank.

So here’s my plan for today. (I could say I plan to fish or cut bait, but I won’t. I mean, really! Enough!)

  • Look over my Scenes and Revelations list and make additions.
  • Attempt to put the list in order.
  • Add transition scenes where needed.
  • Imagine each scene and which character each scene matters most to to establish point of view.
  • Mentally chart each character’s growth to be sure it’s just obvious enough and believable.
  • Add action whenever possible.
  • Add emotional drama whenever possible.
  • Take a long walk and let my  mind spin out scenarios without nagging–avoiding pirates if I can.

Will all that happen today? Not a chance. But I’ll make a start. As the little guy in the cartoon says, today my pirates and I will discuss “a transitional plan.”

I’ll tell you how it goes in the next Writing Process 2015 blog.

Meantime, if you DO have something to say about the other sagging middle? The kind that come from sitting too long at a computer and snacking to encourage your muse? Please enlighten us in your comments.

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