Friday, January 9, 2009

Belly Blahs - Those Sagging Middles

One of the things we're taught to watch out for as writers is a sagging middle. (Fingers plugging ears and singing, "nah, nah-nah-nah, nah.")

As a suspense novelist, I try to write a tremendous beginning, fraught with danger and tension and questions, because I know that's what will hook my readers. I also know that writing a killer ending is important to get that reader to want to pick up another book I've written.

But what about those middles? What causes a middle to drag? Here are a few thoughts that recently came up in a discussion:

* The map gets put down, and the writer gets lost. He veers away from the plot and follows a distracting route before finally coming back to the real story.

* The action is replaced by cerebral junk/boring legwork/mundane travel/basic reality.

* Action for action's sake.

* Important things are stalled. The protag's advancement toward the goal/the stakes/subplots. The pacing suffers when these things aren't propelling the story forward.

* Either there's no Central Crisis to create tension, or there's no organic connection between the Central Crisis and earlier challenges the protag encountered.

One suggestion was to use the middle of the story for character development while using the subplots to ramp up the action.

Another suggestion was to take Mary Buckham's online course for pacing. I checked, and it's being offered as a month long course through Writer University in March.

The way to succeed is never quit. That's it. But really be humble about it.
~Alex Haley

CR: Still reading the Koontz. It's definitely different from The Good Guy, but I'm withholding comment until I finish.

It's all better with friends.


  1. I'm doing edits and rewrites on my first novel that I wrote during NaNoWriMo, and I'm discovering a big case of the "belly blahs." I have a lot of revising and rewriting. Enjoyed the post.

  2. Peg, Good stuff. It's so difficult for writers to determine (at least for me) middle of the book pacing. Like you said, the beginning and dramatic conclusion aren't a problem. But figuring out if readers will track with the middle of the book is tough. Perhaps the only way is to have others read the book through for pacing and continuity--after following your suggestions, of course.