Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Saturday, 22 September 2012

Dealing with the sagging middle of a novel



Dealing with the sagging middle - of a novel - not a body!

Following on from the two previous blog posts re procrastination and self-doubt I confess these two faults usually hit me around the middle of a novel. I have to remind myself that although things seem to be moving far too slowly it takes me three times longer to type the pages than it will take to read them, so it is not so slow as I think.
Even so I often feel the middle of my novel is in danger of becoming a muddle, or worse still coming to a halt, or sometimes the end is rushing forward too early. So what can we do at such a time? One successful writer I know half- jokingly suggests a rape. Drastic remedies do not always suit the story, or the characters concerned. Their introduction can have far reaching effects, as they do in real life. We might introduce an unexpected flood, a thunderstorm with a lightening strike, a robbery, a fire, a snow storm - so long as it is not in mid-summer of course. Then there are the air, sea and traffic accidents, even an earthquake, depending how drastic the author wants the action to be, and whether the story can deal with far reaching consequences. If it is relatively short term then we can use only the news of the accident and the possibility of a serious injury or death. Later conclude the story with the news being false or exaggerated, so long as it has served the purpose of introducing tension at a point when it was needed to lift the sagging middle of the novel.
Beware the event does not feel contrived, or simply stuck in there as an extra bit of excitement. If it has been introduced out of the blue then consider it carefully in the revised draft and insert a hint or pointer(s). Keep it subtle but enough for the reader to realise later how or why such an event could happen. Make sure it fits or flows seamlessly into the story. In one of my novels I have a beautiful girl who dances everywhere like a fairy but her childlike mind is vacant and her concentration nil. She is fascinated by sunbeams and flickering flames in the fire place. I didn’t know when she appeared in the story that there would be a house fire but her fascination fitted in naturally when she picked up a lighted candle and danced with it. Although nobody was killed at the time the event had far reaching consequences, even affecting characters in the following novel.
I confess that the best ideas sometimes seem to come out of the black box I call my computer and I wonder if I am responsible for them at all. Then again I have procrastinated about writing this blog because my mind was a blank and I had no inspiration. I can only hope it does not seem too contrived.

13 comments:

  1. Gwen, you're not alone. I think many of us experience the muddle in the middle. Yes, a rape could be a touch drastic, but you seem to have found a way to resolve the problem.

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  2. Thank you for looking in Joan. I am never sure whether I have solved a problem or made another.

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  3. Really enjoyed this post, Gwen. I must remember what you said about it taking three times as long to type the page as it does to read it. I hadn't thought about it before but it will be useful to remember when it feels like everything is going too slowly.
    Wasn't there a writer who said when things seemed to slow down or dip in the middle you should shoot someone? In the WIP, I mean!

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    1. I don't know who recommended shooting Mary but I suppose so long as it stays in the WIP...

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  4. You are not alone in your fear of the saggy middle - maybe because it's where we are trying to reconcile our start and our ending with one another. I'm a fan of the 'fake happy ending', where everything seems to be working out nicely and then BOOM, everything is thrown back up into the air again, a bit like starting the book over again. Or killing someone...

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    1. I think this is a good policy for a lot of novels and some editors eg Maggie Seed seem to look for it. One of these days I shall try it out. Thanks for reminding me.

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  5. Most of us get a saggy something. My friend Carole Llewellyn (she writes for Hale)gave us all at our writing group her take on the solution. As she knows the ending of her book, she opens a chapter further on in the timeline she's set herself. She finds, then, that she can go back to the saggy bit where what she now writes is like flashback. I tried it and it worked for me.

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  6. In my latest work in progress when everything stopped, him'n'her (as they are affectionately called) were stuck below deck on an historic trawler. So decided a bit of soggy might solve the problem so I chucked her overboard.

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  7. Well Linda and Michelle I may need to try these solutions sometime. Isn't it good to hear the same problems can affect other people, even if it is no consolation at the time.

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  8. Not contrived at all but very useful and sensible - as ever, Gwen. Thanks for this, and the interesting suggestions from others.

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  9. Very well put, Gwen. I've heard it said that if you don't know what happens next, introduce a corpse, or have someone pull a gun! But that only works for a specific genre. I usually suffer from a lack of direction at the beginning of a book more than the middle, but that's not to say it won't happen. I've just checked what happened in the middle of TORN. I had a double birthday, threw a party and introduced some new characters!

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  10. Thanks Gilli - I shall look forward to the birthday party when I get to it. It does sound better than a corpse.

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