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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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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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