June 10, 2009

Sagging Middles

Oh, the sagging middle. And no, I am not talking about that part of some of us that jiggle and sag when we walk. Ahem... I am talking about that part of your book the rests between your exciting beginning and your triumphant end. (lol...I am totally cracking myself up tonight with my use of body part imagery!)

I am continuing my read of The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass and the chapter I just read was all about Middle Scenes. Sometimes middle scenes sag and have no sparkle. Many times authors don't want to take the time to freshen up their middles because of self-imposed or editor deadlines. They want to meet their quotas and dadgumit, they are gonna meet them, sagging middles or no.

Maass believes authors write scenes for a purpose and the task is to open those scenes up and discover two things: Outer and Inner Turning Points. An outer turning point is "the way in which things change that everyone can understand." An inner turning point is "the way in which a scene's point of view character changes as a result" (of the outer turning point).

Maass also talks about dialogue as a common downfall. It can be wordy, with too many attributives. Bring tension into your dialogue by paring it down and making it flow.

Another area to check in your middle scenes is what Maass calls Striding Forward and Falling Back. We all know every scene needs a goal, but sometimes we may want to keep the readers guessing as to the outcome of the goal. Yes, a goal is a must, but each scene must either fulfil the goal or fall back from the goal (like with obstacles) This will keep the readers on their toes in expectation.

Another way to up the ante in your middle scenes is to focus on your first and last lines. Maass likens them to the checkered flag on the last lap of a race. They increase the drama. They set the stage. Bookend you scenes, even if you think its over the top. Make it memorable!

And last, Maass talks about The Tornado Effect. Its the huge events in your novel. He says our of all the many works he has read, most novels don't have enough big events. Also, it doesn't really matter the size of the event, but the consequences...or the scope...for more than just the protagonist.

Maass has some great questions and exercises at the end of this chapter to help develop your own work. He also has many excerpts from books to "show" you what he is talking about, which is so helpful to me, a visual person.

Let me ask you this... How do you deal with your sagging middles? Do you tend to ignore them? Cut them out? Or do you do surgery on them, like a lift and tuck...no more sag! (LOL...I am just so weird today.)


14 comments:

  1. Sagging middles... I do lots and lots of situps and pilates. ;)

    Okay, really. Hmmmm... I guess I don't know. What a great post! I can't wait to read that book. I try to make sure every scene has a goal and moves the plot forward. But I need an objective eye to figure out if my middle sags or not.

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  2. Katie!!! What are you doing up so early! Aren't you on summer break now? I have to say this book is a good one, but I am getting pretty overwhelmed by all that I am learning. It is a frightening thing to realize how much you don't know as a writer. What IS rather nice is finding out there are a few things that I am doing right instinctively. Very nice, indeed. Oh...situps are a no-no for me (they hurt), but I am starting up my pilates today. Maybe tomorrow. Hhmmm.

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  3. Sounds like an awesome book!! Thanks for sharing so much of it with us! I'll have to check it out this summer and read through it! I think that if we try to make each scene have a reason for being in our book and make it as conflict ridden as possible with a hook and ROP, then we'll possibly avoid some of the sagging middle. But I agree with Katie, I think sometimes it helps to have someone give us an objective opinion about whether the story is holding them or not.

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  4. I'm a big fan of Donald Maass's books. For the first time, I'm positive I don't have a saggy middle (except in real life--I could do more crunches!!). First of all, the middle chapters weren't hard to write, a good sign for sure, and secondly, I took Donald's (and various other authors of writing craft books) advice about upping the conflict. For each step forward, there were steps back.

    You couldn't have picked a better book to learn from!

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  5. Awwww, the sagging middle. I try really hard not to have those stinkers. Great post! I really like this tornado effect thing and I agree, many books could be more emotionally intense if there were a bigger consequence.

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  6. Luckily the middle of my book is when most of the action starts getting exciting, however I'm worried more that I may have a dropping front. (Leaving out the body images with that one!) I'm still trying to stew over this obstacle.

    Great Post!

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  7. Ooh, I'm going to check out that book!
    I usually don't worry about the middle. For me it's the teeny weeny spot before the black moment that gets me. So I guess it would be the sagging thighs? LOL!

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  8. I just read that chapter recently too. I felt like my editing time just quadrupled reading it. But he is so right. We need to put the effort into those middles to create great stories.

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  9. Thank you sherrinda, I'm reading Maass' book as well but I enjoy your synopsis!

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  10. Jody, you are so right in each scene needing to be conflict ridden. And I like the idea of hooks...like bookends of a scene. :)

    Jill, how wonderful for you to know your middle isn't sagging! It would be so awesome to feel great about what you are writing while writing. ;)

    Jessica, the tornado thing was unusual. I hadn't thought about a huge event wreaking havoc on lots of characters and not just my main guy. It really made me think.

    LOL, Marybeth! Droopy front, indeed! Too funny! I am sure it is not hanging a low as you think it is! ;)

    Jennifer!!! Saggin' thighs! Oh, I love the imagery! So I wonder why right before the black moment is so hard? Hhhmmm.

    Eileen! So you are reading it too! I haven't really done the exercises at the end of the chapters, but it would help when I get to the editing phase, I think.

    T.Anne, so is the book scaring you as much as it is me? I have such a huge learning curve!

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  11. Someone else recently mentioned using his book. I need it! Good post and thoughts. I know I am getting close to my middle with the editing and I hope I had a tornado in it!

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  12. This is some EXCELLENT advice, and just what I need as I rewrite. THANK YOU!

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  13. Hi Terri! I don't think my WIP has a tornado, and I've been thinking what in the world I could do to whip some wind into it!

    Lady Glamis, I cannot imagine you needing any advice, girl! Your posts are so well written...very professional. ;)

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  14. Sherrinda, I just linked this lovely post to The Literary Lab. Scott has a post up this morning about Sagging Middles. Thought you might have some insights you'd like to add over there. You can find the link through my blog if you don't have it.

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