Thursday, November 18, 2010

Put a Belt on It—Tightening Your Sagging Middle

What’s that sound? No. No, no! It’s getting dark in here. Thud. Great, we’ve lost her for good.

Know what the above represents?

Your characters reacting to losing a reader due to a sagging middle.

We are fast approaching the perfect time of year to address sagging middles. Turkey Day. The day famous for causing bellies all across America to puff out. Did I hear something in turkey naturally causes people to become sleepy? Well, snap to it!

It’s time to put a belt on that sagging middle.

Other than ingesting small portions and snacking before a big meal, how do we rectify the problem of the sagging middle?

James Scott Bell pinpoints some excellent ways to “energize a lethargic middle” in his book, Plot & Structure:

Analyze the stakesBell suggests asking what the character will lose if he doesn’t achieve his objective.
What more could go wrong? A perfect question for this stage of a book. Ask it and then apply it.

Strengthen the adhesiveBell encourages writers to ask, “What is it that bonds the Lead and the opposition together?” Solidify that core relationship. Think of some ways their paths could uncomfortably cross even more.

Add another level of complicationOn the heels of the last point, Bell reminds us to aggravate your MC’s ease of acquiring success and merriment. Cinch that belt until it hurts a little.

Add another characterBell suggests that we don’t add just any character, but that we’re intentional with our selection and we add “one that will make the Lead’s life more difficult.” It’s our job to frustrate the Lead from achieving their ultimate goal. The time will come for peace, but not yet. Not in the middle.

Add another subplotYou pour spoonfuls of gravy onto your plate. Hence, the middle grows. Make sure if you add a subplot you maintain the flow of your work. Bell suggests writers use this solution sparingly (perhaps it’s the girdle kind of belt).

Push on through the WallYou push away from the Thanksgiving Feast. You’ve eaten your fill. Maybe it’s time for a walk? A break? Middles get saggy, especially when you consume words and ideas like any good writer does. Stories have great potential to bulge to non-attention grabbing works.

There’s hope for your sagging middle.

You can always put a belt on it.

*photos from flickr


Sarah Forgrave said...

Wendy, I love these suggestions and the analogy. :) Being the plotter that I am, I try to make sure I have high conflict points spaced throughout the book. I never thought about adding another character...interesting. I'll keep that in my back pocket for my next sagging middle.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

What perfect timing with that analogy! It fit wonderfully! I am nearing the middle of my story in my NaNo writing. I'm throwing my leads together more and have a new character come in. He won't be there long...just long enough to cause turmoil for my heroine. Great suggestions!!!

Julia M. Reffner said...

Great thoughts, Wendy. I'm reading this book right now and its so helpful!

Casey said...

I really liked what you said about analyzing the stakes. Something I was very afraid of when I was writing WIP 2 is that at a certain point I would hit a wall and not want to write it anymore. That happened to another story I started and haven't finished, so I know that fear well. Something I always tried to do when sitting down is how can I make this more complicted, or up the tension? I know I still need a LOT of work, but it definately kept me writing. Great suggestions! Bell's book is excellent! :)

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Sarah, I loved that new character option. I've tried it and it helps.

Sherrinda, Sounds like the timing works for you all around--where you are w/ your MS, the time of year, etc. I bet your belly isn't the least bit saggy though. ;) Mine will be once I get my hands on some stuffing next week.

Julia, I so agree. So much to learn. I find myself rereading and reviewing books like this.

Casey, I'm with you, whenever I feel the lull coming on, a shiver runs through me--the "uh oh am I going to keep this interesting until the end" feeling. This one is a scene-saver for that.

Thanks ladies for having fun with the analogy with me.
~ Wendy

Angie Dicken said...

GRRREAT suggestions! I think the sagging middle has been hanging out too long in my writing. Thanks for the wonderful analogy...I will never look at my gut the same again! HA!

Mary Vee Writer said...

Thanks Wendy. Like the others, I like the idea of introducing a new character...and Like Casey says, just long enough to cause trouble.
If nothing else, that could lead to a second book focusing more on that new character.
And then...and then...(something shiny)

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Thanks! I know after next week I'll probably never look at my gut the same way, either. ;)

Yes, trouble is what it's all about.

Hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving. I won't be around the internet much next week.

~ Wendy

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Great suggestions! This is why I love plotting--because I can always see right where the middle of the story is and I know I need to do something to keep the plot moving along. I'll have to remember these!

Heather Sunseri said...

I love these suggestions, Wendy! And the title is great just in time for Thanksgiving.