Thursday, October 7, 2010

Sagging Middles

(Reposted from New Kids on the Writer's Block)

More than two months have past since I attended the 2010 RWA National Conference. I'm still digesting information from the fabulous workshops and my learning of the craft continues. One of the books I picked up while there is Angela Knight's "Passionate Ink: A Guide to Writing Erotic Romance."

You don't need to be an erotic romance writer to benefit from AK's how-to guide. It's written in an easy, down-to-Earth style that seems more like an afternoon tea with a writing mentor than a textbook.

One of the gems that I plucked from it's pages is a simple tip to avoid sagging middles. Ms. Knight's solution to this problem is "making a bad situation worse." In other words, up the conflict ante'. The middle should be the place where everything goes to he** in a hand basket. "[T]he action needs to ramp up with every scene so that each crisis is worse than one before."

In romantic fiction, love may conquer all in the end but until then it should throw everything into chaos. Love needs to complicate the external conflict so that it is much harder to defeat or overcome. If your story is sagging in the middle something must force the hero/heroine to jump from the frying pan into the fire. AK suggests to consider "the worse possible thing that could happen to [the] hero--given his particular emotional hangups--that he could still survive...[t]hen do it him." Be ruthless with your characters. Misery loves company and the readers will rally behind them.

The middle is also where lust begins to give way to love. As the pressure of the external conflict builds, a moment comes when the hero/heroine experiences an eye opening moment and realizes that he/she is in love and has much more to lose than when the story started. Falling in love should make the problem the hero and heroine are facing much more difficult to overcome and add unexpected consequences.

If your middle is sagging, take a hard look at the story's conflict. Conflict should drive the plot. If it doesn't, you're likely to experience a sputtering of your story. Check out your villain. Is he/she as three dimensional as your hero and heroine? Or a cardboard flunkie?

A weak villain undermines the conflict and sucks the ooomph right out of the plot. Your villain shouldn't be too easily defeated, unbelievable, and/or suffer motivational anemia.  His motivation should be as strong or stronger than the hero/heroine. One trick to creating a worthy villain is to remember that he is the hero in his own mind. He isn't evil for the heck of it. Something deep, dark and sinister motivates him to that end.  He has a cause, he has goals, and he can up the ante' if you let him. And, like a pair of big red suspenders, he can help hold up that sagging middle.

"Passionate Ink" is packed full of useful information and is an excellent resource for romance writers of every genre. If you're interested in winning a free copy of "Passionate Ink," please visit my website ( and enter to win. The contest runs through midnight Saturday. Hope to see you there.

~kristal lee

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Rebecca Lynn said...

This is a fantastic book. I highly recommend it for all writers, but especially for the sagging middles part. AK is an awesome writer!

Thanks, Kristal!
October 7, 2010 2:22 PM

Deb Sanders said...

I'll have to add this one to my list of "must haves". More than one book has suffered from sagging middles. I love your suggestion to build a strong villain. Sometimes villains can be more fun to write than hero/heroines. We don't have to give them any redeeming value so they can be as nasty and malicious as we want! Good blog!
October 7, 2010 7:18 PM

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