Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Construction Zone 10. - Saggy Middles, aka Focus

Oh, the dreaded Saggy Middle. And I'm not talking about the one at your waist, despite yesterday's PHS blog. :-) I'm talking about those middle chapters of your book, where everything either seems to go flat and you fight for every word.

Part of the problem is that at least for me, I see what I've done with the partial, I see the end, and I worry that how they get there will leave me 20k short of my 50-55k novel. It's getting a little better, as now I am perfectly fine with finishing a first draft of 42-43 k. I always add a good 5k in layering, and then my editor's revisions tend to add a few more thousand - even though I am always amazed since I cut as well as add.

But that pressure is still there. Do I have enough conflict to maintain the pace?

The only way to defeat the saggy middle is to write your way through it. And the key to this is focus.

You need to focus hard on a few things. First of all, a romance is the character's journey, so let them take that journey. As I mentioned before in pacing, I need to savour scenes rather than let them play out too fast. If you've done your character work at the beginning, your characters are so deep that you may actually discover little bits of inner conflict coming out that you didn't even expect.

You also need to focus on the romance. You need to ask yourself...does this scene forward the romance (or deepen the conflict keeping them apart)? Don't lose sight of what you need to be doing.

And keep your scenes active. Nothing kills a pace faster, or sets up saggy-middle-alarms like endless cups of tea in the kitchen. Don't worry about not having enough by the time you get to the end. You will. And this is a first draft so after you're done, you can go back and insert scenes that you know you need and layer. I used to think - no way. I can't add in that much. But I can and do.

My CP is a great one for e-mailing me and saying, Chapter so and so needs to be 2 chapters and I need to insert a scene. My only regret is often I don't get to see those scenes until I get the published book. :-) But you know, I did it in my last book too. I'd jumped too far ahead...I needed to go back and add a few bits that helped a nice, slow build of the romance.

And most of all, remember, once you get through the middle you can race for the end. And once you reach the end, well, there's a saying that hindsight is 20/20. You'll see what you've missed and you can fix it. Just write it and focus and don't let the fact that it's the middle paralyze you.


  1. Love that question: Does this scene forward the romance (or deepen the conflict keeping them apart)? This should be a banner that I could put at the top of my computer monitor to remind me of what should be happening and keep me on course.

  2. Ah now you revealling my secrets, Donna!

    Sometimes, make that many times, in my rush through the first draft, I forget scenes that need to be there. Scenes that deepen the conflict and advance the romance. You can either make obstacles higher or what they are about to lose greater.
    How to get that irrevocable committment.

  3. Well Michelle as you always tell me, first drafts are $hit. As you can tell from the chapters I keep sending you!

    Patricia, I'm so happy you're back! Hope you hang around a while!