Friday, August 12, 2011

Picking up your Sagging Middle

by Maria Geraci

My friend Lisa has a fat roll around her waist named Carmela DelBarko. Yes, Lisa has given her muffin top a moniker. Carmela’s favorite foods include chocolate and nachos with cheese dip. And while Lisa and I laugh about her fat roll with the name (I only wish I was half so clever to have come up with this myself) there is one sagging middle that is no laughing matter. And that’s the one in my story.

When I begin writing a novel, I start with a story concept or a character in some kind of trouble. I write without an outline and allow the characters that start popping into my head to jump out onto the pages. This is the part I love, the part that seems to flow. Until suddenly, and sometimes without warning, it doesn’t flow anymore. Then I know I’ve reached the middle of my story.

The middle of the story (or Act 2) is the hardest part to get right. It must propel the story along in such a way that it sets up the ending and must keep the reader turning the pages. It must be full of emotion and surprises but never feel like "filler." Easy to do, right? Well, not always.

Recently, while working on deadline for my next novel, I came to a point in the story where I just had to stop and try to figure out what the heck was happening. After writing almost 150 pages, I knew how the story had to end but getting there seemed overwhelming. I needed some craft advice quick. So I decided to do a little research on how to fix my problem. That's when I came across this great post on a blog site called The Literary Lab. I really like how the author talks about the outer and inner conflict and how alternating them keeps the story moving along. I also like how he talks about the use of subplots. In my opinion, it's the subplots that must weave back into your main plot that keep the middle from sagging.

Recently, I just finished reading The Hunger Games (I know, I'm probably the last person on the planet who hadn't read Suzanne Collin's awesome trilogy) and was struck by the compelling mid act. No sagging middle for this book, that's for sure!

What books have you read that really keep the pace moving? What tricks or devices do you have as a writer to keep your middle from weighing down your story?

Maria Geraci writes fun, romantic women's fiction. Please visit her website at


  1. The saggy middle bedevils me in fiction and in life! So I'm heading over to The Literary Lab ASAP. (I also haven't read The Hunger Games yet, but I promised Ernessa T. Carter that I would, so I'd better get on that too!)

  2. A must check out this literary lab... Usually, I'm ok with subplots, in fact, I think i sometimes get too involved in them, thus making my main plot sag!

    Great post as always, Maria!!

  3. I love that your friend named her muffin top, Maria! Hilarious! (She must be fun to hang out with.) Ah, sagging middles. I have no tricks except to just write through it in the first draft and then attack it again with gusto during revisions!

  4. I love your funny friend - and this link is great. Thanks for posting it!

  5. I have absolutely no advice on pacing. But I can tell you that I named my swollen belly Stella Steroid. (A few years ago, I named my new boobs Thelma and Louise)

  6. Wanda Sykes does a whole routine about her belly roll. She named her Esther after the actress Esther Rolle!

  7. @Carleen, I really adore that Wanda's belly roll is named Esther Rolle -- who btw, my mother used to get mistaken for on the street, which led her to early adopt Weight Watchers, so circle of life.

    @Maria, Collins is a former screenwriter, that's why her pacing is so great. In general, if you read a novel with good pacing, it's almost always because it's employed screenwriting structure. Read HOW TO MAKE A GOOD SCRIPT GREAT by Seger and you'll never suffer from saggy middle again.

    What's funny is that my middles are pretty frickin' great, but my beginnings definitely sag. I'd compare them to a heavily pregnant woman getting out of bed -- it takes a while and it's rather awkward.

  8. Definitely going to look at the Literary Lab!! Thanks for the link, Maria, and the helpful post. (And, btw, I haven't read any of The Hunger Games books yet, so you're NOT the last one... ;)