That Sagging Middle by Meredith Bond
Another topic that I’ve heard a number of authors complain about when re-reading their work is dealing with “a sagging middle”.
No, that’s not that roll around your waist that just won’t go away no matter how many sit-ups you do (that’s another problem all together that I would love some advice on myself!). A sagging middle is when after the excitement of the beginning of your story, the middle of you tale just seems to slow and, well, get a bit boring before the excitement of the end of your book.
Happily, your story doesn’t have to be that way.
The easiest way to avoid the sagging middle is to plot your book with a W graph. If you’re a plotter, do this as you plot your book before writing. If you’re a pantser, you might want to do it after you’re finished writing the whole book.
Here’s the W graph that I use:
Just to quickly go over it:
Your book starts with an Inciting Event. This is what shoves your protagonist out of their ordinary life and forces them to do something different. They happily toodle along, doing this different thing (or fighting against doing it), until they hit a Major Turning Point. This shifts their focus and forces them to work harder to move toward their goal or gives them that kick they need to really get moving on doing what they’ve been avoiding.
Your story starts that climb up to the Point of No Return or Climax. Things get more complicated. Nasty stuff happens and good stuff happens. Your protagonist is working hard on getting to that goal.
All of a sudden they climb that crest and one of two things can happen: either they can suddenly see pretty clearly just what they need to do to reach their goal and the realize that it’s going to be a lot harder than they thought (they pause, turn back to where they came from and realize that they’ve come too far to stop and go back – ie, they’ve hit that point of no return); or something momentously wonderful happens (in a romance, this might be a first kiss or other form of intimacy between the two protagonists) which shoves them even further toward their goal or makes the goal clearer (they now know what they want and it’s the other person).
Naturally, as soon as they have this wonderful (or terrible) realization they start down that slippery slope to the Black Moment. In a romance that slope is filled with amazingly wonderful romantic scenes where it seems as if everything couldn’t be better and life is just going to be amazing and they’re in loooove! Yay! In a mystery, all the clues are coming together, revealing themselves and it really looks like the case is going to be solved any day now. Woohoo! There is a way for the Fae, Elves and Vampires to live together peacefully. Whew!
Of course, then everything falls apart. The romance isn’t what they thought it would be. The other person does something unforgivable (or nearly so) or their love is denied and there’s no way they’re going to be able to be together for whatever reason. Or, yeah, the mystery is solved because the killer is now holding a knife to our protagonist crime-fighter’s throat. No question who did it, they’re about to do it again—to our hero! The Other World is falling apart. The war has redoubled and will never end. Whatever it is you write, you can just forget that satisfying ending because it’s never going to come.
Until it does.
Your protagonist figures out a way out, around or up. Wonderful things happen. Things that didn’t seem like they could ever come together again do so. A truce is called for, the killer is caught, the lovers reunite. Your reader closes the book with a happy sigh.
Sagging middle? What sagging middle? We don’t have room for one because there’s simply too much going on in our stories, too much work your characters have to do to attain their goals, too much growth they’ve got to move toward, knowledge and understanding to achieve.
Have you used a W graph to plot out your stories or is there a different structure that you prefer? Tell us about it!