Thursday, July 05, 2007

Sagging Middles

"Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand."

~George Orwell

OK, let's talk about sagging middles today, shall we? And I don't mean the kind that seem to set in sometime after 30 no matter how many sit-ups one does. (That's another post altogether, especially since hubby and I are off on a beach vacation in less than 3 weeks which requires me to wear a bathing suit and lounge by the pool/on the sand for 5 straight days. But I digress...)

I mean the sagging middles that sneak up on you when you're writing. You're zooming along, pretty happy with the start of your story, pleased that your characters are taking on lives of their own, and then all of a sudden, there it is! That terrible screeching halt when the words stop coming and the plot falters and everything, everything, seems stupid and boring.

That's where I am right now in my latest WIP, One Night in Memphis. This is a novel I started 2+ years ago, my first attempt at the "24-hour novel." I abandoned it for One Night in Boston (which has since found a home with Samhain) and now I'm desperately trying to revive it. But it's not working. I revamped the beginning and added some conflict, which seemed to help. Now, about 1/3 of the way in, though, I'm stuck. My H/H are sort of meandering around, not doing anything interesting. The conflict takes off again in about 6 chapters, and from there to the end I think it's pretty solid, but I am frustrated to no end with the section I'm facing right now.

I've been avoiding even dealing with it for the last 3 days, though I know I should just sit down and write through it.

But I'm looking for advice. Fellow writers, what do you do when you're stuck in the middle of your story? How do you pick up the pace, increase the conflict (in a believable way), make the reader want to keep turning pages? I really need some help here...please...


Kira said...

I have to walk away from it and read a really fantastic book. Something that really sets sparks off and inspires me or makes me stop, and saw 'wow' out loud. Then after about a week, I'm ready to go back at my WIP.

But I'm weird, and slow.

Mel said...

Lok at the characters. Usually for me I've violated charactrization. I've made them do something they would never do and it's not soemthing that they need for their arc. Or it could simply be you're in the wrong POV.

Jim Melvin said...

What I do works well for me, but when I mention it to other writers, their eyes kind of glaze over. Anyway ...

Whenever I get stuck in the middle, I have to force myself to spend more time just thinking about the work instead of trying to write it. In other words, I think about it in the shower, on the treadmill, swimming laps, before I fall asleep at night, etc. I think, think, think ... about the plot, storyline, characters, etc. And eventually, bang! The cool, scene-tying ideas emerge, and that night's writing goes well.

Allie Boniface said...

Thanks for all the advice, guys. I really appreciate it...

Fred Charles said...

You should reread it and decide what you find to be boring about it. When you do, cut those parts out or re-imagine them. If you find a scene to be boring, then your readers will too.

When you say that the conflict picks up six chapters later, that sounds like a major problem. You should have a lot of conflict in your book. Maybe on every page. Conflict does not have to be major. It can be small, but interesting enough to keep your readers reading.

When I get stuck, I ask myself, "What is the worst thing that can happen right now?" You'd be surprised what you come up with.

If you would like some help with figuring this out, you can drop me an email. I've helped more than a few people work through these issues.

Scriptorius Rex said...

Here's my take on middles: Skip them. I was at a seminar that gave some excellent points about structure of a novel. It's fairly lengthy but there are four phases that the hero must go through: orphan, wanderer, warrior, martyr.

Orphan- hero is disconnected from the story i.e. doesn't know what is happening or why.

Wanderer- the antagonistic force has made itself known and the hero is trying to figure out what to do about it.

Warrior- the hero has enough information to go after the antagonistic force but must not succeed because of one crucial missing piece which must come from a change within.

Martyr- the hero has learned from the first try and has made the necessary change to try again, this time ready to figuratively or literally die if need be.

When you think of it this way your story is essentially four different but connected stories with no middle. This structure applies to just about every story told from The Terminator to Love Actually.