Friday, June 03, 2016

Writing tips - Avoiding the Sagging Middle

Okay, you have an idea for your book, a really great idea, a fantastic love story! You start writing in a flush of enthusiasm and its all going well, until..... some point you begin to feel that you are flagging, that the book is going nowhere, that it is (hushed whisper) boring.

Many, if not all writers get this at some point. I know a lot of authors who say it kicks in at around 30,000 words. Sometimes they have finished the whole book and looking back they find the middle is stodgy, They have introduced the characters, set up the scenes, but then everything seems to flounder.  This is the bit commonly known to writers as the Sagging Middle.  Let's face it, if you as the author don't like the book at this point, it's unlikely that your audience is going to enjoy it.

So, what can you do about it?  It is unlikely that you can cut the whole middle section out, after all, you need to get from A to B somehow! So here's a few tips that might just help.

Interview your characters. They are your creations, and if you have done your job well then they can help you a great deal at this point.  Are they saying/doing what is right for them? Are they being forced in directions they don't want to go?  Talk to them, ask them what they want to do (I know, I know, this may sound slightly crazy, but believe me, once you have created characters they can take on a life of their own and the most difficult thing can be keeping them in order. So if you have great characters, then interview them, ask them what is wrong.  They might just tell you.

Go back and check your overall plan.  Does is still make sense? Is it going in the right direction?   Often when we are writing, a book takes a turn that we had not anticipated and if we manhandle it back on track that may not be the way the story really should go. Be prepared to change it, if it feels forced or unnatural.

Read your manuscript as a reader. Be objective, if you can.
If you feel too close to it then perhaps you can put it aside for a while and then read it with fresh eyes. Remember, though, readers read for entertainment and pleasure, not for grammar or spelling or construction. If bits of the story don't excite you, take them out or re-write them. Make sure everything you put in adds value.  Are you adding too much information, is it slowing the story and detracting from the pleasure of reading?

Discuss your work with someone. Perhaps you have a critique partner/group,  or a fellow writer who is on the same wavelength. Ask them to read your work and comment.  However, be careful not to ask too many people, or you could get too many differing opinions!

Do something else! This is the one that appeals to me most often. It doesn't matter whether its ironing, washing up, walking the dog, shopping, gardening, or even watching TV.
Get away from your work in progress for a while. Allow the ideas to settle, ferment, evolve. Give yourself permission to think of something else and very likely your brain will continue to work on the problem in your subconscious.

So that's it.  I hope these ideas might help to get you over the point of that sagging middle.

Happy reading (and writing)

Melinda Hammond / Sarah Mallory

Published July 2016 - The Outcast's Redemption (Harlequin Historical)


Elizabeth Bailey said...

Great advice here. I normally soldier on, pushing through the treacle. Or, if I can spot where it all went wrong, start again from that point. There's always the editing stage to get the saggy bit sorted. I believe one of the things we all find hard to remember as writers, especially when involved with the characters and story, is the reader wants you to cut to the chase. Agree it's so important to read it as a reader rather than a writer.

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

Some excellent ideas, Sarah/Melinda. I suggest chucking a spanner in the works - something completely unexpected. The most famous 'spanner' of course, is Lydia running off with Wickham in 'Pride and Prejudice' which stops any rapprochement between Darcy and Lizzy dead in its tracks.

Georgette Heyer is good at it, too. In 'Sprig Muslin' Hildebrand shoots Sir Gareth which also throws everything into disarray and allows Hester time to come into her own. It also stops the Amanda running away and Gareth trying to stop her scenario from becoming samey.

Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory said...

Thanks for adding to the advice, Elizabeth and Elizabeth! Sometimes I write on through it and edit later, but sometimes that is just like swimming through treacle and I come to a dead stop. A spanner in the works is good, too - one can learn a lot from the great masters (or mistresses) like Austen and Heyer.

Basically, it is whatever works for you, but always remember the golden rule "thou shalt not bore they reader"