Let’s chat about sagging middles. Pilates works at strengthening the body’s core, creating a taut, attractive, strong middle. That’s what we want in our writing, too.
One way to create that taut core in a novel is to strengthen the connecting tissue by applying tension and conflict. That strong line of tension and story question pulls you through to the end.
Throughout the story arc, your protagonist must face a series of obstacles. Things must get worse, then worse yet. Oh, and even worse, before she uses her wits and talent to resolve those problems.
But each chapter, each scene, also needs tension. An argument between the main characters isn’t necessarily conflict. Or at least not compelling, page-turning tension.
In each scene, the focal character wants something. You can create tension by making it hard to achieve that objective, by putting up obstacles and by showing the emotions created in your point of view characters as they struggle to achieve their objectives. Even better? Show the emotions created in the non POV character in the scene, as observed by the POV character.
Pacing creates tension. Taut, rapid fire dialog without tags and with lots of white space on the page moves the scene along. Contrast that pace by using telling details to stretch a physical act beyond what you’d normally expect, or by allowing your character a moment for reflection. A moment. A brief moment. Too much internal thought drains tension.
You want to make sure your protagonist is not getting what he or she wants from the scene. Nor is the reader. And that creates tension. And tension is like a girdle for a sagging middle.
Another cause of the sagging middle is including too much back story. We’ve learned that you need to delay back story until after the first 50 pages. That’s a good lesson. It doesn’t give you permission to dump back story, like a four cheese lasagna, into your middle. It will sag. Sprinkle the bits of essential back story throughout the middle and avoid the back story bulge.
Make things difficult for your protagonist, season lightly with the right details, show the emotion that each obstacle, each event, creates in your characters, and don’t drown your reader in back story. You’ll avoid flabbiness and achieve a tasty, toned tale.
How do you keep your writing trim? Please share your tips.