December 14, 2016

How to Fix the Sagging Middle

We all run into this problem at some point or another.

You start off writing this amazing story. Your beginning is beautiful. You love your characters. And you know exactly where you want the story to wind up in the end. But somehow, in the middle of it all, you get a little lost along the way. You write that scene - it's fascinating to you, the setting of it and the way your characters interact and react, but it has no real relevance to the plot. It breaks your heart to admit it. Those scenes are the answer to all of the "what ifs" you ponder.

But they're the reason for what you might call, "a saggy middle."

The beginning is great.

The ending is perfect.

But the middle just sucks...

And how on earth do you fix that? How do you get where you want to go with a story without getting lost along the way? Plotters are so much better at this than Seat-of-the-pantsers. Still, it's an important question. As a Panster myself, I'm going to share someone else's advice with you:

I took a workshop on this at a writer's conference and the speaker suggested an idea. You probably think the answer to this lies in the hero's journey - somewhere along the way, you forgot a few steps. But what about this:

Have you ever tried writing your story from the middle?

Picture your character in a moment of adversity - not quite the black moment. But a moment where their good intentions are in question and they're wondering, "How on earth did I wind up here?"

"How did I get here?"

Hopefully you know how to get from this moment to your black moment. First, it gets hard, then their friends rally around them, they come up with a plan, they execute, all hope seems lost, then your character does something they couldn't have done when the story starts out (a lesson learned). The day is saved and happy ending commences.

All right, now we work backwards.

From the moment of, "How did I get here," work back. Ask yourself what kind of person your character has to be to find themselves in the situation. How did they get out of their comfort zone? What went wrong? What was their intent? This will bring you to your, "Day everything changed," The moment that set them on their journey.

There. No more saggy middle.

I'm sure you all have your ways of fixing a saggy middle. But this is mine. And if you think about it, it's probably the way you came up with your story to begin with. We all ask the question, "What would happen if a character who ________ faced _________?"

And that, my friends, is actually the middle.