Today’s guest blog post is brought to you by Jennifer Snow.
How To Avoid A Saggy Middle In Your Novel
As readers, we have all read books that start off strong with a great hook and plot idea, only to be faced with slow-moving, description-laden writing in the middle before the plot picks up again towards the climax and resolution. As writers, we too are faced with this issue when we start a new project. Most often, we are hit with a plot bunny so strong while we wash our hair or drive our children to school, that we are compelled to start writing right away, forcing us to set aside our current work-in-progress that may have stalled. We may know how the story will start and how it will end, but the struggle is getting the story from the beginning to the Happily Ever After, in the case of a romance novel.
Many things can happen-we may not clear about where the story is heading or the plot may not be complex enough to fill four hundred pages and it’s often tempting to walk away from the story and never finish it. Or worse, the book that does hit store shelves has an uninteresting saggy middle that can cause a great story to fall into the ‘did not finish’ pile for readers. Over my career as a writer, I have been fortunate to hear editors say ‘Yay, no saggy middle issue’, but believe me it’s not because I don’t feel the pain of that middle section of every book I write…I’ve just learned to ‘get around it’.
Every time I attend a writer’s conference, I sit in on sessions that deal with this craft issue and I always learn something new. Kensington and Montlake Books author, Sierra Donovan offers great advice about pre-planning which is a great way to avoid these middle doldrums. “I spend the first half of the story building up to a pinnacle in the middle…in sweet romance, that’s the first kiss. Up to that point, the hero and heroine are fighting the attraction, trying to deny it, etc. After the kiss, the panic sets in. They react to the situation, try to escape it, but the feelings they’ve discovered propel them toward the HEA.” Pre-planning through the use of an outline is a great way to keep the story moving forward. If you’re a plotter-you can pre-plan each section of your book with scene ideas that keep you writing. But what about the non-plotters-the ‘pantsers’ like myself?
One way is by “raising the stakes by adding a complication that stands in the way of the main characters reaching their goal”, as YA and Harlequin author Karen Rock suggests. As writers, we all do this at the beginning of the book, but sometimes an unexpected twist in the middle that makes the protagonist’s goal that much more important can help you get through the middle. For example introducing a compressed timeline, making an already tight deadline even shorter works great in plotlines where there may be a promotion on the line for the character or in a situation where the hero or heroine may be leaving town and the other has little time to convince them to stay. This creates a new sense of urgency in the writing that keeps the reader turning the pages. Another way to raise the stakes is by involving a loved one in the conflict-someone else who is affected by the character’s actions can add a richer element to the plot and keep the story moving forward. Children or aging parents whose well-being depends on the character’s success often works well. Read the rest of this entry »