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The Sagging Middle

Back to the writing… So, we’ve got an awesome hook. A great beginning. And we know what will happen in the end. So we need to work on the middle of the story. This is where many writers get into trouble and stall.

If you are a plotter (a writer who creates an outline and plots out the entire story), this mostly likely is a little bit less of a problem. You know exactly where you are going and what you need to do to get to the climax.

If you are a pantser (someone who writes by the seat of their pants, and just write only knowing the end but not how you are getting there), this maybe a little more of a problem. By giving yourself the freedom to go where the characters take you (all writers are crazy), it can be a two edged sword. I am a pantser. I find freedom in the art of composing on the fly. It’s not for everyone. You need to find your own way of writing. Whatever works for you, go for it.

Either way that you write, you need to worry about that sagging middle. This is where the story stalls for many different reasons. There are a couple of things you need to keep in mind to avoid that stall. (I don’t remember where I read or heard this so I’m not claiming these ideas as my own…)

Four important parts of a story:
The inciting incident.
Complications
Crisis
Resolution

We’ve already talked about the inciting incident. Moving on… Complications. This is both in the plot and the subplots, and in character development. Give your hero(s) things to fall, trip, climb, and stumble over in order to make the story stay exciting.

For instance… Lord of the Rings. The plot is a ring needs to be destroyed in Mordor. Someone needs to take it there. They travel to Modor to destroy it. They destroy it. I know that’s over simplifying it but nevertheless it is the plot. What gives the story excitement? It’s the things that the heroes of the story must do to destroy that pesky little ring, and of course, what it costs them.

Now adding complications to the plot just to add complications is not the way to do it. Every complication that you add, every obstacle added needs to advance the plot or character development. It must move the story forward.

We move onto the crisis. This is the climax. Always the story should be moving to the crisis of the story. You can have all of the subplots come to crisis at the same time or have them peak at a different time. If you do so, make sure that they are not more exciting then the main plot crisis. Again I turn to Lord of the Rings. There are so many subplots in the story, it’s hard to pick out one. But I’m going to focus on Aragorn and his rescue of Minas Tirith. His story has been weaved in and out of the entire book(s). Here he takes up his heritage and saves the city and, for the moment, Middle Earth from Sauron’s forces. His story and most of the subplots are resolved by this time. However, the big story is still unfolding. Now he joins (sort of) into Frodo’s story by distracting Sauron. And when the main plot is resolved, i.e. when Frodo/Gollum destroy the ring, his story is mostly finished.

And that brings us to the resolution… but that is for another blog.

Stay tuned.

Angela Abderhalden is the author of the Mel Addison Mystery Series and the Acquiring Editor for Seventh Wave Books, LLC. Seventh Wave Books is always on the look out for new authors. See the website for more info… http://www.seventhwavebooks.com

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Show, Don’t Tell

If you’ve been a writer for more than a few days, you’ve heard the saying, ‘Show, don’t tell.” It’s one of those things that every writer hears- over and over and over again. It’s an axiom, a chant, a truth… a law.

And although some laws are made to be broken, don’t break this law. At least most of the time. As a new or beginning author, you need, no you must have this law on your mind at all times. Here’s why- Show is active. It engages the reader in the story. Telling is passive. It doesn’t make the reader part of the story. (More about active versus passive in another blog real soon.)

Let me give you an example:

Telling—
John was mad. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Wally had tried to calm him down but John wouldn’t listen.

Showing—
“What?” John slammed the door and stalked over to Wally’s desk. He deliberately placed both hands flat on the desk, leaning closer to Wally. “What are you talking about? How can-”
“Calm down, man,” Wally said holding his hands out, palms toward John. “It isn’t that bad. The last thing-”
“Calm down! Calm down! That contract was mine. That little weasel-”
“John, would you listen to me! The contract is still yours. Fred only went-”
John pounded a fist on the desk cutting Wally off. The red flash brightened on John’s cheeks. His voice deepened even as it ratcheted up a notch in volume. “No one is supposed to work my contracts. No one!”

Do you see the difference? The first one, telling, doesn’t engage the reader in the story. Very passive. Is the reader caught up in the action in the telling? No.

But with the showing, the reader gets involved in the action. The reader figures out that John is mad and won’t listen. The reader might even put themselves in the scene because everyone can relate to being this mad at something. You are engaging the reader in the story. Absolutely vital.

Since the reader is engaged they are less likely to put the book down or stop reading. And this is something that you never, ever want your reader to do.

Stay tuned.

Angela Abderhalden is the author of the Mel Addison Mystery Series and is an Acquiring Editor for Seventh Wave Books, LLC.

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The Middle

Now that the beginning chapters are out of the way, it’s time for the middle. This is the meat of the story. Here is where the characters are developed, the main plot evolves, sub plots are wound around the main plot, etc. This is another place to lose your reader too.

You’ll hear the term, the sagging middle. After the great action beginning, and everyone knows the ending is always great… there is the middle. Don’t let this sag or not live up to the expectations of the beginning. How to do this? There is no formula or outline that works all the time. You have to feel your way through it. (A great book to read on this subject is The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. This is a good ‘structure’ book.)

The middle needs to be like a rising stock market graph. The story is always trending upwards. There should be peaks and valleys in the story but always heading upward to the final climax. Why valleys in the middle of the story? Well, you can’t have the tension all the way through the story. You have to let the readers rest sometimes in the story. Give them a break to catch their breaths before you send them up the next peak, right back into the action.

Again, everything leads to the climax. Everything. You can wrap up some sub plots earlier in the story. Or you can have them wrap up with the climax. Watch out about having them wrap up after the climax, because it might confuse the reader as to when the real climax is. Or best… Let a few sub plots dangle, not being answered at all.

If you are writing a series, then letting sub plots dangle is a good way to write. You never know when a sub plot in one book will lead to a major plot in another book. Or you can write more in a European style where not all things get resolved in the end. Unlike the American style of writing where most things get wrapped up.

By using the upward trending graph style of plots, it ensures that the reader stays involved in the story. The reader is given momentary breaks but always heading to the ever important climax. There are no sagging middles. And no lost readers. Action. Movement. Reader involvement.

Stay Tuned.

Angela Abderhalden is the author of the Mel Addison Mystery Series and Acquiring Editor for Seventh Wave Books, LLC.

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Keep Writing

Writing is not easy. Any writer can tell you that. Everyone thinks that they can just sit down and write a novel. And the beginning is usually the easiest to write. But it takes perseverance to work all the way through a full manuscript.

As you work through the first couple of chapters of the book, you must expand the plot, bring out character flaws, create drama, conflicts, sub-plots, etc. And at the same time you have to weave all of these together into a cohesive group of words that not only makes sense but also keeps the readers attention at all times and make them want to keep reading. It’s a complex and time consuming job.

There’s a famous saying that goes like this: ‘Writing is easy. All you do it sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.’ This was said by Gene Fowler. And it is so true. There are many times that it truly does feel like this. Don’t let it discourage you, keep writing. Keep that blood flowing.

Another thing about writing that no one tells you, is the soul searching that you must do as you write. Every character takes a piece of you. Each and every one. And there are scenes that in order to make them believable and true to life, you must dig deep inside of yourself and touch a part of yourself that you don’t want to. Many writers will take the easy way out and just skim the surface, but not if you want to be a successful writer. You must dig and bleed and put it on paper so that your reader will also feel the same. You must feel, so that your reader can feel too.

If you aren’t willing to expose your deepest, darkest secret, at least sort of, then don’t even start your manuscript. You must put yourself, literally, into each and every scene. If you cry, laugh, cringe or whatever, at a scene then so will your reader.

It is that important. Really. Bleed on that manuscript. Make yourself cry. Laugh. Be embarrassed. It will be important in the end when you hear from your readers that they could really understand what the character was feeling.

It makes all the effort worth it. So right now, don’t take the easy way. Keep writing with feeling. It will pay off.

Stay tuned.

Angela Abderhalden is the author of the Mel Addison Mystery Series and Acquiring Editor for Seventh Wave Books, LLC

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Still On The First Draft Beginning…

Okay, so you’ve written the first draft. You’re ready to go back and find your starting place. Don’t get discouraged if you restart your manuscript several times. Questionable Ethics, the first in the Mel Addison Mystery Series, had seven beginnings before I finally settled on the one that it has. They all started in the same scene, just differently.

First, it wasn’t a good hook. Two or three drafts later, I had a good beginning hook but had to work on the first line. That was another two drafts. Finally I narrowed it down to the one that ended up the as the finished product. I thought I would never be satisfied with it. Then it happened. It was good.

Most beginning writers go through this process, so don’t let it get you down. Even now after I’ve been writing for this long, I still rewrite the beginnings several times. I’ve generally can get it to just two or three drafts now. The latest in the series, the beginning was spot on, I just needed to work on the first sentence hook.

Here is what separates the hobbyist writers from the professional writers. Hobbyist writers are willing to get it mostly right, but since they aren’t really trying to get published they’re willing to stop at okay. And there is nothing wrong with that. However, if you are wanting to get published, you must be patient with the process and continue working until you know, I mean really know, that it’s the best it can be. Sometimes that means letting your agent/editor tell you it’s ready. And that’s okay too.

It is still a process. A craft. A work in progress. And we are only talking about the first draft and the beginning. There is still the rest of the manuscript to come.

Stay tuned.

Angela Abderhalden the author of the Mel Addison Mystery Series and an Acquiring Editor for Seventh Wave Books, LLC

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So You Want To Write A Book…

For the next few weeks I’ll go into detail about how to write a manuscript. Your first question is what is the difference between a book and a manuscript? A manuscript is what your story is before it is published. A book is what your manuscript becomes once you actually are published. Not a big difference in description except to professionals. So if you want to be a professional, then you need to start using the terms of a professional.

Let’s talk about the first draft. This is the very beginning of your manuscript. For the first draft, just write. Get it down on paper. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc. All of the nitpicky stuff will come later. This is the time to just write.

When I write, I write the first draft for me. That sounds weird but it’s the truth. I add stuff that I know will get cut or suspect will get cut but I enjoy the idea of escaping into the world I’m writing about. So I just write. I don’t worry about the beginning, if it sags in the middle, scene and chapter breaks or even all of the plot twists. Since I don’t like exposition, I almost never add much description about things like setting and stuff. In my mind’s eye, I know what it looks like and just get the plot and characters down on paper.

Now this may not be your style of writing. I am not a plotter. I am a pantser. What, you ask? I write by the seat of my pants, so to speak. I do not sit down and do an outline of the story, craft scene outlines, or outline the entire manuscript from middle to end. I do not even always write my story in complete order as when it is finished. I usually know the main character, who ‘dunit’ (remember I write mysteries) and why and usually the climax. Sometimes that’s it when I start my manuscript. This is what works for me.

If you are truly a new beginner then you need to find out what works for you. So beware of writing books out there that say, ‘this is how you write a book’. (Notice the terms.) There is no one way to write a manuscript. Find what works for you and stick to it.

Back to the first draft. However you do it, do it. Write it. Get it down on paper from some sort of beginning to some sort of end, even if the middle is lacking. Get it down. Do understand that this is a first draft, so don’t fall in love with any thing in this draft. What I mean by that is that you need to realize that almost everything will change from a first draft. Don’t be so much in love with your own words that you can’t cut something. Because coming up in the second draft, that’s what you need to do. Cut and rewrite

But for now enjoy the first draft. Do it for YOU and you alone. Really enjoy the experience of escaping into your own made up world and live in your manuscript. Enjoy. Because all too soon, the second draft will be here.

Stay tuned.

Angela Abderhalden is the author of the Mel Addison Mystery Series and Acquiring Editor for Seventh Wave Books, LLC

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“No Pain, No Gain.”

It’s totally a cliché but true. I realized this when I was doing training for a new program at my mundane job today. At work, several of us are training to master a new program that will enhance customer service. The problem is that it is still in the beta stage and there are inevitably glitches and issues. We have to pinpoint them, figure out a way to fix them, work thru them and then move on to the next issue.

How like writing this is. Writing is part craft and part artist. The craft part can be taught. It can be learned. It can be fixed. All it takes is getting the proper training and practice. Think of the Olympic athletes. They didn’t just start in their sport and were great. It took hours of practice. Years of sweat. Pain and discouragement. This before they reached greatness.

With writers it is the same. Practice. Patience. Training. More writing. So do whatever you can to get training for your craft. Books. DVDs. Other writers. Writing groups. Critique groups. Online groups. School classes. Education. Writing conferences. Learn anyway and every way you can. Then practice. Practice and when you get the most discouraged… write some more. And then some more.

The artist part of writing can be taught but takes lots and lots of training and persistence. Some people just seem to be born with it and it comes naturally. Others struggle long and hard. Either way, again training and practice is the key.

So live by the cliché. Go for the pain. The gold. The published book.

Angela Abderhalden is the author of the Mel Addison Mystery Series and Acquiring Editor of Seventh Wave Books, LLC

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