Friday, January 8, 2010


Ennui--Walter Richard Sickert When I was a kid in the late 1970s in Anderson, South Carolina, I’d sometimes have to go to the drugstore with my mother. This was not a fun trip for me. Other than Belk Department store, the drugstore was the most boring place in the world.

The only redeeming quality to this shopping trip was the comic books. The store had them on a wire rack. They were packaged in sets of three inside a plastic wrap. So you could see the comics on the front and the back of the 3-pack. Those comics would be something great like Peanuts, Donald Duck, or Little Lulu. But the one sandwiched in the middle of the pack was a mystery.

And it was always awful. When I unwrapped the pack in the car, I’d find a dreaded Boy Comic Book. (Sorry boys.) That would have even been okay if it’d been a decent boy comic like Superfriends. But no, it would be some 3rd string, horrid comic book with awful illustrations.

Having a horrible middle in your book isn’t a good idea, even if your beginning and end are fantastic.

But it’s easy to lose focus in the middle of your story. Sometimes I think, “Where was I going with this, again?”

Here are some ideas about avoiding saggy middles:

Put the character another step toward their goal.

Put the character another step away from their goal (setback.)

Introduce a new character who either causes conflict for the protagonist, or helps him to his goal.

Put your protagonist under pressure.

Throw in a life-changing event. Death, birth, job loss, unexpected personal gain.

Plot backwards. Okay, I know it sounds bizarre. But some writers swear by it. Basically, it means to start at the end (assuming you know how the book ends) and plot backwards to the point where you currently are. What needs to happen to get you to the end point? Those key events in your story can be plugged in.

Work on your subplot. If your main plot is faltering, try working on your subplot for a couple of scenes and see if you can get back to the main story afterwards. Or see if you can connect the subplot to the main story in some way.

Include a suspenseful scene. If the story is getting boring and saggy to you, it’ll really seem so to a reader. Maybe a little excitement is in order.

Reveal a secret. Or disclose some previously-unrevealed depth to your protagonist or a secondary character.

Since I’m a mystery writer? I don’t have a problem with saggy middles. In each of my books, you’ll find a dead body right in the center of the novel. :)

Got saggy middles? How do you deal with them?