Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Cures for a Sagging Middle

Kim Watters here. Okay, I’m depressed. You know, that mind numbing depression you face when you stare at that manuscript after you’ve ditched yet another pair of too-tight pants that are now lying in a pile on the floor. Finally I realize that I’ve hit that road bump of mid-life, and in a writer’s life, I have a sagging middle; one of the most common problems a writer faces. I’m sagging under the weight of the story.

How did this happen?

For my body, all it took was a few years at a desk job and a healthy appetite for sweets. For my book, all it took was a lack of conflict. Sigh. It took a bit longer for my body to decide to rebel than my characters, but still. I mean, come on. It didn’t have to happen this way but I have no excuse. No thyroid issues to blame it on. The blood tests came back normal. Nope. Just the daily inactivity of sitting in front of a keyboard and trying to achieve that happily-ever-after without an outline or game plan.

So I go back to the drawing board and pull out my old notes on how to write a book. Refresher courses are good in real life and for our characters. Voila. The focus of the middle of the story is to push your characters to the climax. Weak structure and wandering from the main plot will make your story cave in on itself. Duoh! Note to self, panster syndrome aside, at least create an outline to keep on task. I need to keep in mind that every part of the novel should be integral to the whole and make sure to sustain sufficient conflict to sustain the story. I need to make the character stakes high enough to matter to the reader and create the conflict where the character has to make a decision or take action.

For me that action is to start a workout routine and do an outline for each chapter. Sure the panster in me will change things when I get there, but a basic roadmap is good. It will remind me that each section has to have four events: Inciting incident, complication, crisis, and resolution. It will remind me to add new problems, new conflicts, or a new direction and make each obstacle more difficult. Change the way the characters see their situation and don’t hold back.
I’m not. Fortunately for me, the sagging middle of the manuscript is going to be an easier task to face than going for a brisk three mile walk each morning.

The manuscript won’t require expending an enormous amount of energy or sweating from places I didn’t even know had sweat glands or snubbing that last spoonful of ice cream left in the scooper after I dish out some for the kids. Nope, fixing the manuscript is just going to involve massive amounts of brain energy and some more computer time, which is what got me in trouble in the first place. (We won’t talk about the chocolate, though.)

So if I need a workout, then it’s time to put my characters through the wringer too.

While I’m out for the brisk walk--I really don’t like to run,--I mentally add a new dimension or depth to my characters and force them to grow and change by throwing another obstacle at them. If I can work hard at my goal, so can they.

While I’m doing stomach crunches, which I hate by the way, I can twist the plot into a different direction that forces my characters to make different choices. For me and my own plot direction with the dreaded diet, that might be whether or not I allow a piece of chocolate or a slice of French Silk Pie into my mouth or a stick of celery.

Or I can tape a picture of that skinny pair of pants to the front of the refrigerator, which would serve as a constant reminder of my goal and strengthen the conflict within just as I can strengthen the conflict between my characters by revisiting their goals and motivations.

I’m determined to get rid of both my sagging middles. So what’s stopping me? Nothing.
Watch out. That woman waking quickly down the street with a picture dangling in front of her while she’s doing stomach crunches to boot is on a mission. Stay out of her way or you may be written into her next book.

Photo by rmalek86 http://media.photobucket.com/image/fruit salad/rmalek86/fruit-salad.jpg?o=16

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