Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Curse of the Sagging Middle

Okay, so this can have different meanings, depending upon your perspective. As I prepare to skid sideways into another birthday and wonder what the hell happened to my once-girlish figure, I ponder ‘the sagging middle.’

As writers, we are cautioned about the sagging middle--the point in our story where it droops and loses tension. How much like life is that? As I tugged at the waistband of my favorite jeans the other day, I noticed my sagging middle, and wondered how it got there.

Well, I know how I got my sagging middle--too many hours in the recliner under the laptop, a can of soda and a bag of chips at the ready, (and just a little chocolate). Okay, okay. A lot of chocolate. My sagging middle came from putting all the wrong junk into my body and limiting its activity.

And there it is--how we get a sagging middle in our stories. We fill it with junk--unnecessary details, the little wanderings we go into when we stray from the story, characters that don’t serve a real purpose, lines that don't move the story forward. And we lose the tension and the action. That fantastic beginning that grabbed our reader by the throat and held her there suddenly becomes jello that’s sat in the sun too long. We manage to get back on track and tighten up our ending, but it’s an uphill climb.

Here’s a test I’ve discovered to determine if you have a sagging middle. (No, don’t look down at your navel. I’m talking about writing again.) Highlight a section that you might use as an excerpt. Paste it into a new document, then read it. Does it stand alone? Does it represent the story or give a glimpse of one of your characters? Would it make you want to read the entire book?

If you answer ‘no’ to any of those questions, your story needs liposuction and a good workout. (Or maybe I’m talking about my waistline now?)

Breaking your story into random excerpts will tell you if it’s filled with junk, or (cliche alert) fit as a fiddle.

Now, go, and give a chapter a workout.



Angela said...

Oh my goodness. Now that I'm done laughing, I think I SHALL go give a chapter a workout. Or, several chapters. Very nice, and all too true! Love you, Linda!

Lynn Romaine said...

Great idea, Linda. I'll give it a try. I hate those middles (both my story and when I turn sideways at the gym) - ugh. I'm almost in the middle of the Night Noise edit so I'll try it out there

Judi (writing as Lynn Romaine)

Jennie said...

Once I stop laughing my head off – yes, it's rolling around on the floor, the kids are playing kick ball with glee – I will try your suggestions. I know, I do the meandering you speak of – I put lots of junk food into my....uh …story...LMAO.

Carol McPhee said...

Sharp thoughts there, Linda. Like losing weight, cutting flesh from a manuscript is exceedingly painful. Carol McPhee:

Anonymous said...

Love the 'random excerpts' idea Linda - thanks!
Cute kitty too-
Nancy in NH

Anonymous said...

I personally love writing sagging middles in the first draft. They allow me to wander around and get to know my characters better. I'm then able to slice out the fat and get down to the lean meat of the story in the 2nd and 3rd drafts. (big sigh) Wish I could do that on my own body.

Kimberley Dehn