Does your middle sag?
And I ain't talking about that old spare tire! I split up my middle (beginning, mid, end) and I've been going over it with a fine tooth comb, but it still doesn't KICK ARSE the way the beginning does! Of course, I don't have AS MUCH going on in the middle but stuff is happening. In the beginning I have my protagonist trying to have an abortion, then her father finds out she is pregnant, and so on and so on. I am still going to push forward, though, but the middle just seems to SAG! Anyone else care to pull up a chair at the "saggy" table??
Re: Does your middle sag?
Laura -- When I read, "Does your middle sag?" I figured it was a post about post menopausal women or beer guzzling guys.
Seriously, when the middle of a novel sags, lags and doesn't seem to move, it means that you're missing a critical piece from your novel. You have a great beginning, and I'm guessing a fabulous ending to match. However, the center of the book -- which keeps the reader (and agent) reading -- should sustain the breathless start, make us care so much about the character, how she deals with her problems, what changes and angst she goes through, and then we're glued to the book to learn the outcome.
You either need to furnish your heroine with more obstacles in the middle of the book -- nothing contrived! Or work in the subplots a bit more.
Put the manuscript away for a week, work on something else, then come back to it. Ideas may weave their way through your subconscious during that time. That's what I usually do.
Re: Does your middle sag?
I had a similar problem with my first novel. I took some advice from other writing friends to be bold and get the scalpel out.
In the end I cut the middle: I didn't feel that there was anything there that couldn't better be described in the format of fairly sharp (I hope) and well-woven flashbacks of a couple of paragraphs at a time. The novel had a big time span and I was trying to cover decades in which nothing really happened just to flesh out the characters and show what happened to them in the intervening years before they are reunited. My former agent's advice was to add more to the middle, but I just felt I was padding.
I am still waiting for feedback on how successful this has been - the book is now with another agent whom I hope might represent me. It felt scary doing it and the prospective agent might hate what I have done. I did create another version with a padded middle, just in case.
Re: It's hard to tell...
if it sags or if I'm just comparing it to the bang-up beginning. Does this make any sense? It's hard to keep up the pace of the first five or so chapters (she tries to have an abortion--her fater finds out about the baby then kicks her out, then she's wandering the streets, has it out with her boyfriend). Now my protag is in a home for unwed mothers and I do have some really good problems for her to over come but I am having trouble judging clearly whether the middle actually sags, or if I'm just comparing it to the beginning. I don't think any novel can keep up that frantic of a pace through-out, no? Wouldn't that just be exhausting for the reader??
I hope I am making sense.
Re: It's hard to tell...
The three basic parts of the novel are set-up, conflict, and resolution. If your book were divided into four parts, set-up and resolution get one each, and the middle section, "conflict" gets two.
So yes, that's a big chunk of pages through which to carry the reader. However the term 'conflict' covers a lot of ground. You've got external and internal conflict, for starters, and in his book, "Writing the Breakout Novel," Donald Maass talks about what he calls "bridging conflicts" - little mini-conflicts and side issues that help sustain the pace and hold the reader's interest as the main conflict moves forward to its ultimate resolution.
You do have a central issue to your book, right? A key question that is set-up in the beginning and resolved at the end? If so, than the conflicts and trials your character goes through in the middle should all tie back into that.
Think "Gone With the Wind." (And keep in mind that my comments here are based more on the movie version than the book!) In the opening scenes, it's quickly obvious to the reader/viewer that Scarlett and Rhett would be perfect for each other. Yet they don't see it. Scarlett thinks Ashley's her man (and is anyone else like me, who always wondered what the heck she saw in that wimp?). ALL the stuff that happens in the long, long, middle of that book including the war issues and the burning of Atlanta, all of it always comes back to Scarlett's unlucky choices in men. It's not till the last quarter of the book (resolution), that she does indeed hook up with Rhett (albeit without the 'happily-ever-after' ending.)
A typical story pattern does indeed begin with several dramatic events, then follows the characters through their efforts to overcome the consequences of those events (all the while throwing in more and more complications, of course), until the central question is ultimately resolved (either positively or negatively).
I like the middle. The relative lack of action makes it a great place to deepen issues and characters, so that when the resolution finally comes, it resonates more fully.
Re: Well, hell...since I have your attention:
Here is my synopsis, a little rough. I can't find the polished one at the moment.
Eliza Green doesn’t know a thing about babies. When other girls her age were babysitting, she was picking fights and running with the guys. Now, at 16 she finds herself pregnant and totally unprepared for the sharp detour her life is about to take when her dad (the local sheriff of Saguaro Flats, Arizona) discovers her little secret and kicks her out on her ear. Eliza tries to have an abortion, but fails miserably and soon finds herself on a bus heading for a home for pregnant teens out in the middle of nowhere.
“Safe Harbor,” is full of people with more problems then you can shake a stick at: Sue, the house mother, is crusty around the edges and has a few secrets of her own; Mary never stops blabbing and can clear a room faster than napalm; Raylene, who was “born angry” and screws up the laundry purposely, on a regular basis (staining the whites to a “cotton candy pink”) and is addicted to the Home Shopping Channel; and finally, Annie who is the butt of everyone’s jokes…and cannot make a decent meal to save her life, but ultimately befriends our heroine, Eliza.
There are journal entries by Eliza’s dead mother, which shed light on Eliza’s behavior and the strained relationship she has with her father. Inevitably, Eliza must make the biggest decision of her life: give up the one thing she’s ever felt love for or raise a baby on her own. This compelling story is about a lost soul searching to find her place in the world. It’s also about the triumph of the human spirit, as well as a story about forgiveness, second chances and ultimately… believing. Not only in yourself and in love, but believing there still is magic in the world…if you only know where to look.
So obviously, I have lots of subplots, and I have the overall "theme" of my book. I'm just getting lost in the middle, trying to bring all the different threads back to the protag...I think I am losing my objectivity.
The WN workout video
All the various comments are good.
(I wanted to do that subject line.)
My manuscript got a tummy (middle)tuck too.
Figure out where you need to lose a few inches - "Does this need to be here?" I did that with each sentence. Some got removed, some got shortened, and some got verb changes to make them more interesting.