Posted by: Kerry Gans | September 29, 2011

The Sagging Middle: A Structural or Psychological Problem?

I went to the monthly Writers’ Coffeehouse run by the Liars Club this past Sunday in Willow Grove, PA. One of the things we talked about was the problem of the “sagging middle.” One of the attendees said she was new to fiction writing (had been a poet) and had gotten about halfway through the book and was now tired of it. She asked for ways to get past this.

Advice came immediately, because what author isn’t familiar with that middle-of-the-book sag? The usual culprit for this sagging middle is structural – something about your plot needs fixing. Typically, adding tension to the plot at this point will charge up that middle and bring it back to life. Often you can accomplish this by changing the challenge the main character faces. For example, your MC has been trying to solve X. He solves X, only to find that it opens up larger problem Y. Problem Y then carries you to the end of the story.

It occurred to me, though, that we had addressed the structural facet of the sagging middle, but not the psychological. This writer was new to fiction. She’d written several short stories, but this was her first novel. It could be that there is no problem with her structure, but that she simply had writer’s fatigue.

A novel is a huge undertaking. It is a marathon, not a sprint. If it is your first one, it is understandable that it can wear you down. Her words seemed to hint at that: “I am tired of it.” So, when your mid-novel sag is due to psychological fatigue, how do you combat that?

There are as many ways as there are writers, but some that work for me are:

• Skip ahead to the end, or a scene you are excited about writing.
• Hop over to a completely different project for a while.
• Take a long walk, or a shower, or something relaxing that frees your subconscious.
• Read a book.
• Listen to some music.

How do you cope with your mid-novel slumps?

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