No More Sagging Middle!

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by Denise Hunter

It’s no secret to my writer friends that my least favorite part of writing happens during the middle of the book. They don’t call it the sagging middle for nothing, folks. If you’re not really careful, that baby will sag so low you’ll be tempted to Select All and Delete. Or at the very least, whine to your critique partner that you’re in the middle of your worst book ever, and your career is over. (Sound familiar, Colleen Coble?)

Sagging middles tend to happen when a writer carelessly strings together a series of events. Don’t just write the next scene that comes to mind. Give it some thought. Come up with five or ten ideas, and choose the one that works best.

The easy cure for the sagging middle is to create a domino effect. It’s just as it sounds. Create a conflict that pushes the next domino down. If the conflict isn’t strong enough to push the next one down, make it stronger or change it altogether. Think How is this scene going to effect my protagonist? What reaction is this going to cause? If the reaction is daydreaming by a window while sipping Earl Grey tea, it’s not the right scene. You can do better!

Start your novel with a strong conflict that gives those dominos a good, hard shove. In Dancing with Fireflies, Jade has recently discovered she’s pregnant. Since she’s living alone in Chicago, with no support and little money, the discovery causes her to return home to Chapel Springs, Indiana-and the first domino falls. It might be helpful to think in terms of cause and effect. Each choice she makes or each thing that happens to her has a consequence.

Think of those dominos all the way through the book. If the conflict isn’t bad enough to rock the next domino, make it worse.

Make something happen. Something bad. What is your protagonist’s worst fear? Make it happen. At the worst time possible. Be mean. It’s fiction; you’re allowed. Is there a devastating secret she’s keeping? Is someone she loves keeping a secret from her? Let it come out-again-at the worst possible time.

Keep the conflicts coming. Keep the dominos falling, and your readers won’t be able to turn the pages fast enough. Your protagonist will grow, your reader will experience the vicarious thrill of victory, and you won’t have a middle that sags to the floor.

firefliesendorsementDenise Hunter pushes her dominos in Indiana, the setting of her most recent books Barefoot Summer and Dancing with Fireflies. She is the internationally published bestselling author of more than 20 books. In 1996, inspired by the death of her grandfather, Denise began her first book, writing while her children napped. Two years later it was published, and she’s been writing ever since.

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