Fixing Sagging Middles: Multipurpose Scenes


I hope everyone had a great holiday.  Mine was low key since hubby is still recovering from the knee surgery (doing better now), but nice nonetheless.  I did get a good bit of writing done, I'm up to 10k in Constant Craving, so that makes me happy.  Since it is a slated for category length (55k-60k) this puts me on the brink of starting the middle of the story, which can come with its own challenges.  So, I thought for the next two posts, I would talk about avoiding the dreaded sagging middle.


Most of the time when we come up with a story idea we get a vision of two parts of the story--the beginning and how we want it to end.  What tends to be a bit more fuzzy is all that stuff that happens in between--the meat of the story.  If that middle isn't give proper attention, you'll end up with meandering scenes that drag and sag, feeding filler to your reader instead of a juicy burger.

And keep in mind for you trilogy/series writers out there, this applies to that middle book as well.  I have seen really terrific authors suffer from this.  I love the first book, am chomping at the bit for the next one to come out, then I get it and *yawn* NOTHING really happens, it's just a bridge to the third book (which typically returns to the kickass glory of the first one).  So annoying.

So what are some things you can do to avoid the saggy middle?  Be the Ron Popeil of scenes.  For those of you who have never been caught awake at two in the morning watching infomercials, Ron is the guy famous for inventing and  pitching those As Seen on TV products.  And there are a few things we can learn from him...


It slices, it dices, it does your freaking laundry!

  • One thing is to make sure that your scenes have more than one purpose.  If you write an entire scene just to show your reader that your MC is daring, your reader will see through that.
  • Use the 1 + 2 formula for purposing a scene:  The purpose that should ALWAYS be present (1) is that the scene moves your plot forward.  Then on top of that, the scene should serve at least two other purposes.  Here are some ideas from author Alicia Rasley:
Develop character.
Show character interaction. 
Explore setting or culture and values.  
Introduce new character or subplot. 
Forward subplot. 
Increase tension and suspense.  
Increase reader identification. 
Anticipate solution to problem. 
Divert attention from solution (but still show it).  
Show how character reacts to events or causes events. 
Show event from new point of view.  
Foreshadow some climactic event.  
Flashback or tell some mysterious past event that has consequences now. 
Reveal something the protagonist has kept hidden.  
Reveal something crucial to protagonist and/or reader.  
Advance or hinder protagonist's "quest".

But wait there's more!

  • Just when your reader things can't get any more complicated for your characters, throw in more conflict.  
  • Every scene should have some type of conflict.  It may be as subtle as a character warring with their internal conflict in their head or as blatant as two characters dueling with swords.  But it must be there.
  • And don't forget that each scene should have it's own beginning, middle, and end.  You should be able to extract any scene in your book, look at it in isolation and be able to identify the players and the conflict in that particular scene.

And your reader gets all that for only $19.99!  Sorry, that has nothing to do with anything, just wanted to say it.  :)  Alright, I'll cover more tomorrow, but hopefully that gets your gears turning a bit.


Have you struggled with keeping your middle tight?  If so, what have you done to get that sucker into shape?  Have you read books where the middle or a book in the series sags? 

**Today's Theme Song**
"The Middle" - Jimmy Eats World
(player in sidebar, take a listen)