Sagging Middle


Climax (Photo credit: VFS Digital Design)

Yesterday, I was talking to a writer friend about that dread syndrome, the sagging middle.  Most writers know about this and have gone through it a few times. For those who don’t know, it’s when  the prose that fills the large space between your novel’s opening and its climax fails to hold your reader’s interest.

The middle sags often because we’ve dropped a plot line, or diminished it to a sub-plot that enters scenes only occasionally rather than directing the course of the story, which it should be doing. In essence, a sagging middle is the result of a weak structure.

Try forming an outline for your story, which you can go back to when you find yourself sagging.

Here are a few tips:

A) The middle is just as important as the Crisis

Make note that a sound plot progresses  will go through. Use 4 major events which correspond :

The inciting incident

The complication

The crisis

The resolution

These four road signs can further be subdivided, so that each road sign can become one act in a four-act story.

B) Don’t rush. Tension should slowly build toward climax

In the move towards the climax, your characters should face increasingly bigger obstacles and challenges. Things should get more complicated – never less. Characters should have more at stake as events unfold. The emotions should run higher and deeper. And each event should leave the reader more concerned about what will happen next.

C) Every part of the story should be essential to the whole story

That means each event should both result from what came before and cause the next event to take place. Events that are not part of such a chain only weakens the story  and contribute to the sag.

D) Plan. Sounds simple enough, but when you are in the fifth chapter the climax can seem so far away. Suddenly things start to get murky as to how you will get to the all important pinnacle of your story. I  advise to add little side notes, or stepping tones to help you navigate through the murk.  Map out the path ahead!

While adding road signs,subdivision to your story, decide early on, on the inciting incidents with that subdivision. That way  you will also keep yourself  focused on the next event you are working toward.

Don’t forget, the middle is the time of rising conflict, where the “on-the-brink” situation in the opening chapters gets more and more intense. So plan ahead, because aimless exploration can get you lost and sagging.


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