Monday, July 6, 2015

The Saggy Middle Diet
Did that title get your attention? If you’re trying to shed a few pounds like I am, it might have J For the past two weeks I’ve been carefully following an eating plan in the hopes of detoxing my carb-loving, sugar-adoring, fat-storing body. I enjoy eating…for the simple joy of eating, and after a few years, and a few kids, it’s taking its eternal toil on me, so I’m trying to reduce my saggy middle.

It’s hard work, filled with strategic planning and purposeful eating.

Progress is SLLLLOOOOWWWW, but I hope the reward at the end will be worth the slogging.

Get where I’m headed?

One of the dreaded parts of novel writing or reading is getting to a saggy middle of the story. Sometimes it can seem sluggish and slow, other times it can feel really drawn, and there are even times when it might have lots of action…but its only action for action’s sake – it doesn’t move the story forward.

I’m writing the middle of my WIP right now and I’m trying to brainstorm ways to make the middle as powerful as the beginning and end.

Finding that ‘finely toned’ middle can be a lot of hard work, filled with strategic planning and purposeful writing.

I’ve tried to think of 5 ways to help support toning up the flabby middle of your novel.

1.       Spice Things Up – adding action or emotional intensity is a great way to spice up the center of the story. Mary Connealy once mentioned something about ‘when things get slow, bring in a man with a gun.’ J For her and Amy Leigh Simpson’s books, that would work….not so much for other types. The point is, if you can keep the intensity high (as you hope to do within each chapter), it will help keep the pacing of the story moving. 

This is usually helpful when you have some subplots going on.

It’s also a great place to reinforce your character arc by bringing in some good scenes to support or challenge the direction you want your character to go.
I’ve added a subplot which has really intensified the middle but also undergirds my heroine’s bigger story question.

 2.       Make Your Moments Count – but within the ‘spice’ your scenes need to be purposeful, helping spurn the story forward. A meaningless middle, even if action-packed, can still feel just as empty as the saggy middle. Every chapter, beginning, middle, or end, should help lead to the ultimate goal of your novel. Don’t just throw a smoking gun into the mix unless it’s going to help move your main story forward, either through character self-awareness or other-awareness.

 Just like on a diet, you’re keeping that bigger goal in mind as you make little decisions.

 3.       If You Get Off Track, Jump Back On  - High pressure is a notorious killer of creativity. Believe me, right now I totally get it! Having the pressure to get words on the page can instigate a whole host of insecurities and worries that can really kick in the writer’s block. An important thing to remember, is if you get stuck (or eat that delicious banana pudding on the 4th), you can keep writing. So what if you have to delete the scene? Writing spurs on more writing. Other options might be taking a walk, watching a movie that will inspire your story creating, brainstorming with friends, or listening to beautiful music.

 I’ve been watching episodes of Downton Abbey, biographies about World War 1, and some other era-based movies to help when I’m stuck.

 4.       Keep Your Goal in Mind – You started this book with a purpose. As we discover our characters and story writing, we hope that initial purpose becomes clearer and clearer. As you enter the middle of your book, remember why you were drawn to this story-seed. What about the characters captured your heart to lead you into story-creating? Keeping the goal in mind will help you tone up the middle.

What about you? What are some tools you use to tighten your saggy story middle? What are some books you’ve read where you’ve enjoyed the story all the way to the end…even in the middle?
Pepper Basham is an award-winning author who writes romance peppered with grace and humor. She’s a native of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a mom of five, a speech-language pathologist, and a lover of chocolate. She enjoys sprinkling her native Appalachian culture into her fiction whenever she can. She currently resides in the lovely mountains of Asheville, NC where she works with kids with special needs, searches for unique hats, and plots new ways to annoy her wonderful friends at her writing blog, The Writer’s Alley. She is represented by Julie Gwinn and her debut novel, The Thorn Bearer, released in April 2015. You can connect with Pepper on her website at, Facebook- or Twitter at


Patricia Donovan said...

Hi, Pepper. Thanks for these great tips. You have inspired me to go back and "tone" the middle of my novel, "Deliver Her." I recently visited Asheville's River Arts District and compared notes on the creative experiences with some artists I encountered. Here's my post:

Julia M. Reffner said...

Love this, Pepper! I am working on my saggy middle, about halfway to my goal weight. I love your ideas for getting unstuck in your story, taking a walk seems to help me the most in my creativity.

PATRICIA, so glad to hear Pepper's tips were helpful. Getting ideas from other artists and writers definitely helps. Thanks for stopping in.

Angie Dicken said...

These are great tips, Pepper! I am sure your WIP is stellar though.;) something I have found that helps with the saggy middle in a plot (still working on finding a good solution for my gut...ha), is having a secondary story line weaving through. It has helped me a ton with my current novel!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

So so good, Pep!!! Loved my lil shout out :)

Casey said...

Oh the woes of that darn saggy middle! :)

Susan Anne Mason said...

Great tips, Pepper. I can so relate to the writing on a deadline killing creativity! And I'm no where near the sagging middle. Yikes!
We can do it! We can do it!