Thursday, June 04, 2015

Writing Craft Books vs. the Dreaded Sagging Middle

I'm on a mission to find the best books and articles that target "the dreaded sagging middle." I'm especially interested in craft books that dissect and thoroughly explain the structure of the middle act in a romance novel, aka act two in the three act structure, or acts two and three in a four act structure.

Recently, I noticed there are many craft books out there (print and digital editions), as well as a heap of blog articles, that thoroughly cover writing story beginnings. There are books available that discuss how to make the most of your first x amount of pages, from the opening scene to the inciting incident. It's no mysery why. Agents and editors that request partials look at roughly the first five to fifty pages. Writing contests often require participants to send in their (polished) first five to fifty pages for judging. Beginnings are important. They're the first thing people read when they pick up your book or manuscript.

Here's the thing. When I talk to other writerly peeps, it seems most of us struggle with writing the scenes that come after the inciting incident...that's the open door to act 2. Almost everyone I asked through email, on Facebook, and elsewhere have said they have the most trouble with middles - not beginnings.

Earlier this week I went to Amazon to research this phenomenon, and I discovered there are very few books that specifically cover the structuring of middles. I found only three books that deal directly and specifically with middles, although there are a few others that cover the topic in greater depth than the standard writing guide.

Books I've found that specifically discuss middles:
Write Your Novel From the Middle by James Scott Bell 
Trough of Hell by H.R. D'Costa
and Vicki Hinze 12 Essential Writing Skills : Novel Middles (Only 28 pages long. I bought it, but haven't read it yet.)

Other craft books that spend time discussing middles in detail include:
Nancy Kress's Beginning, Middles, and Ends.
Structuring your Novel by K.M. Weiland (rec'd to me, but I can't remember if I've read this one)
Save the Cat by Blake Snyder (love)
Screenplay by Syd Field (a personal favorite!)
and The Love Plot by Katherine King (great for category romances)

I would really, really like to add to these lists. If you can make a recommendation, please let me know in the comments or contact me on Facebook or Twitter. A couple of kind folks sent me several google search lists pointing out a ton articles about sagging middles. I've waded through pages and pages of those articles, some good and some bad. What I keep seeing in the results are older craft articles (pre-2013), articles that are vague in explaining the structure of the second act, articles that don't seem geared toward romance or any other specific genre, articles that suggest changing pacing or adding tension (or some other missing element) or reworking your characters to prop up the middle, and some articles only touch on the actual midpoint itself. What I'm not seeing in the search results are printed books available on the topic; nor does there seem to be a unified, semi-universal, or accepted structure for middles the way we see with beginnings, climaxes, and endings. Perhaps this is why sagging middles are still an issue for so many writers?

If you're a writer, what are your thoughts on this? What part of writing a novel do you struggle with the most?  Do you have any tips or tricks for writing engaging story middles? Also, if you have book recommendations for writing guides that target middles, I'd love to hear about them. ☺


  1. I definitely have a sagging middle. Oh! We're talking about writing! No really, the middle of the book is the worst. I try to plot it out with bullet points to avoid this, that and writing myself into a corner.

  2. I'm good at writing myself into a corner, too. ^_^ I recently re-read Valerie Parv's writing guide, and I like her 10 bullet point outline. That's not what it's named or anything, but that's what it is essentially. I'll be posted about that book later. I'm currently pooling resources to make a guide for craft books that focus on category romances and their structure.


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