Thursday, March 1, 2012

The ABC's of Middle Grade: M is for Middle

Ah, we've all heard about the saggy middle and how we for sure don't want one. I don't mean the saggy middle that develops when we eat too many cookies and candy bars (although that isn't good either); I'm talking about the saggy middle of a book. That part of the story where action drags or readers become bogged with too many details. Middles must be shiny, new, and exciting--just like beginnings. They also must be as interesting and anticipated as the ending.

Some great posts exist on middles, but this post from Lisa Gail Green was written just a few weeks ago. You should read it. It's short (her posts usually are--I like that!), but it has great depth. She lists three simple questions to ask ourselves about our middles. Those three questions focus on: moving the plot forward, building character arc, and creating tension. If our middle does those things, it will not sag!

But I've read books, and you have too, where the middle does sag. The problem I find in my own writing is that a saggy middle is SO HARD to recognize. I know the characters, I know the outcome, and there's this super cool path the characters must tread in order to reach the outcome. And I can't possibly cut anything because, for sure, none of it sags, right?

Yeah, probably not true. So, how do you recognize sagging portions of your own writing?

14 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing the link. That was a great post.

    I've learned the hard way that the middle has to have lots of action like the beginning and end. And maybe reveal something major and then have the story go on from there. I just read The Princess Curse and Merrie Haskell did a great job having no sagging middle doing that.

    Can't believe it's Thursday already.

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  2. Usually it takes someone else reading my stuff to tell me this part is dragging, cut it out.
    However, on occasion when I'm revising and find that so and so scene is boring even to me I rewrite it or gather my courage and cut it out.
    I agree with you middles are hard to spot when it's our own manuscript.

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  3. Good word for today. I try to read it with a critical eye. I also read it on my ereader so I'm more in the mindset of a book. After my last revision I found I had a lot of friends who volunteered to read it and give me feedback. Even if someone doesn't make it through my ms I ask where they stopped reading so I get a sense where I might need to work at holding on to a reader more.

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  4. Other people who read my MS are KEY in my seeing saggy portions of my own work. I don't know what I'd do without them!

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  5. It took me a while to recognize mine. It was just one chapter where I went on too long, gave details I didn't need. So it helped me when my other reader told me it was boring. But also, I have to admit, I knew it was boring because when I revised, I skim through it and say, "Oh, I don't want to read that section again."
    funny how we were thinking the same thing!

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  6. Oh the middle story sag! It drives me crazy. I know I'm there when my own writing bores me!

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  7. I think it's really hard to deal with saggy middles while first-drafting, 'cause who knows if what you think is the middle will actually be the middle? (For example, when first writing my last book, I expected it to be 50K, but then it ended up being around 90K, so what I once thought was the middle clearly wasn't. XD) So, this is something I deal with while revising, and to help the middle not sag, I apply the same method that I do for the rest of my book: asking myself if there's any way for that page to be shortened into a paragraph, that paragraph into a sentence, and that sentence into a word. Then I ask myself if I even need the word! It may not work for others, but for me, it's a great help in figuring out what's really needed and making a story (middles and all!) be as tight as possible.

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  8. Sagging is definitely something to deal with when revising, but it usually takes someone else to point it out to me. You're right, you know the path that needs to be taken, so how can it really sag? Good thing critique partners aren't so attached to each word like I am! :)

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  9. Lydia, I've run in to that in my writing. :-)

    CP's save the day, don't they?

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  10. I think if we take a long enough break from the book, we recognize the saggy middle when it bores us. Crit partners are very helpful there, too. I've personally found that using the 9-box grid so I can define just what is going to be in that middle portion helps.

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    Replies
    1. Marcia, I like the idea of a 9-box grid and knowing what's in the middle. Thanks for the tip!

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    2. I like that 9-box grid too, it's pretty helpful.

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  11. oh, it's like you're reading my mind! i'm working on my mushy middle this weekend :)

    thanks for the link/tips :)

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