Beware the Sagging Middle

This one was for Cat, who asked for a post on narrative drive.

‘Beware the sagging middle’ refers to the middle of your book.

Or more precisely:

Narrative Drive

There’s quite a lot on Narrative Drive out there on the web on writers blogs. Here’s a post about  The Hero’s Journey. This offers building blocks, ‘beats’ to hit to construct a plot. And here’s one from SFF net on how to tighten up thatsagging middle.  They talk about structuring the middle of the book. And here’s another one on how to rescue your sagging middle. They say a well balanced story will have four main through lines and offer help on writing an outline.

And there’s Richard’s Writing Tips. He has a whole section on Story, specifically on Middles, with lots of useful tips on reversal, subplots, overlapping waves and rising tide.

For me writing is less about planning and much more organic. For me, the thing that gives a book narrative drive is the Worry Factor. The ROR writers will recognise this term from our critiquing sessions.

I’ll say things like: ‘The pacing is off here. You need to raise the worry factor.’

What is the worry factor?

It’s the thing that keeps me turning the pages long after I should be in bed fast asleep. And I keep turning those pages because I’m worried about the characters.

So first of all, you have to capture me with a character that I fall in love with. I don’t mean love as in ‘desirable’. The character can be irascible, as long as hey have redeeming features. In fact I prefer characters who are less than perfect, quirky is good, tortured is better.

Once you’ve got me hooked on the character, you’ve got to make me Worry about them.

Give them a problem, more than one, preferable big problems.

Give them secrets they don’t want anyone to find out.

Give them a deadline.

Give them hidden threats they don’t know about.

Give them blind spots, so that they can’t see the looming disasters that your reader can see.

Give them friends they trust who will betray them.

Give them the best of intentions, that will lead to disaster.

Give them powerful reasons to do terrible things.

But most importantly, make them SUFFER.

This is the Worry Factor. If I have to keep turning the pages to find out what happens to the character, because I care about them, you’ve captured me.

Why is there a picture of bare foot prints in the sand?

Because there’s no worry factor unless we care about the person who is walking along the beach and we know there is a big wave is coming to sweep them out to sea.

Can you think of a book that you’ve read recently, that you couldn’t put down?

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