Friday, August 16, 2013

The Curse of the Sagging Middle

Okay, so this can have different meanings, depending upon your perspective. As I skidded sideways into another birthday and wondered what the heck happened to my once-girlish figure, I pondered ‘the sagging middle.’

As writers, we are cautioned about the sagging middle--the point in our story where it droops and loses tension. How much like life is that? As I tugged at the waistband of my favorite jeans the other day, I noticed they don’t fit the same as they used to. Well, I know how I got my sagging middle--too many hours in the recliner under the laptop, a can of soda and a bag of chips at the ready, (and just a little chocolate). Okay, okay. A lot of chocolate. My sagging middle came from putting all the wrong junk into my body and limiting my activity.

And there it is--how we get a sagging middle in a story. We fill it with junk--unnecessary details, the little wanderings we go on when we stray from the plot, characters that don’t serve a real purpose, lines that don't move the story forward. We lose the tension and the action. That fantastic beginning that grabbed our reader by the throat and held her there suddenly becomes Jello that’s sat out in the sun too long. We manage to get back on track and tighten up our ending, but it’s an uphill climb. Readers may not make that uphill climb with us. They’ve dozed off already.

Here’s a test I’ve discovered to determine if you have a sagging middle. (No, don’t look down at your navel. I’m talking about writing again.) Highlight a section that you might use as an excerpt. Paste it into a new document, then read it. Does it stand alone? Does it represent the story or give a glimpse of one of your characters? Does it have some action? Would it make you want to read the entire book?

If you answer ‘no’ to any of those questions, your story needs liposuction and a good workout. (Or maybe I’m talking about my waistline again?)

Breaking your story into random excerpts will tell you if it’s filled with junk, or (cliche alert) fit as a fiddle. 

Linda Rettstatt - Writing for Women


Big Mike said...

Funny, and true. Ref too much time in the chair typing away, my tell tale sign is a pain in my lower back. That gets worse with age also.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Well expressed. Cliche alert: You have a way with words.

Liz Fountain said...

I love the tip of sampling random excerpts and will try it. My bete noir is the sagging bit between the middle and the end. At some point in every novel-length MS, I feel I have a great beginning, a solid middle, and a ripping ending. And, I'm completely lost about how to get from the end of the middle to the beginning of the end. Maybe your tip will help, Linda - thanks!