Pumping Up The Sagging Middle Part 2

Besides basic rules of good writing and strategic planning found in Part 1, other techniques to pump up the middle depends on the genre and book length, here are some of them.

1.  Replace Motivation
Motivation is what influences a person to create a goal. What is their want or need? What causes the character to do everything within their power to reach this goal? If a person sets a goal to win a race for the prize, what might cause the race to become even more important, something that might change the person’s life?

By replacing a goal’s motivation, the person finds the goal has a more personal reason. For example, having strong feelings for women’s rights, Julie works hard to earn money for the abuse clinic, but when she finds herself being abused by her husband, the charity takes on a new meaning. It is obvious how this makes the goal more personal.

2.  Deepen The Stakes:
This technique is similar to replacing motivation except it  takes one step further. It creates an exciting life and death situation. For example (looking at the example above.) When Julie admits the abuse to a friend, her husband hears about her confession, vanishes and threatens to kill her. Obviously, this is a life and death situation.

Other examples that can be used:

  • In a mystery or suspense, focus on one suspect but when evidence proves the suspect is innocent, readers look for a new suspect, arousing greater interest and curiosity. Add red herrings.
  • In any genre, the author can deepen the stakes when main character becomes involved in the danger. Focus on a solution to a problem, but when the solution fails the main character is dragged into the struggle. Have an option to find the solution be grim with dire
  • Make a trustworthy character untrustworthy. A friend becomes the enemy.

3.  Add The Ticking Clock
To pump up a novel, add a time pressure situation. This can be used in romance with a inheritance amendment (the heir must be married before his twenty-forth birthday). In suspense, a kidnapped child must be found before he dies without his needed medication. In a mystery, the man must be proven innocent before his life is taken on death row. This technique adds excitement and helps authors to write page-turners.

4.  Add A Subplot
A subplot must be connected to the original journey, but it can come from a variety of story plot points.

Some of the possibilities are:

  • a friend whose problem parallels the main characters
  • a friend or roommate who’s life complicates the main character
  • career issues such as a promotion that causes a move or loss of position.
  • a person with a proposition that affects the main plot

5.  Secrets
Giving characters meaningful secrets creates a page-turner. Meaningful secrets implies the secret will affect the character’s relationship or standing with other characters or a specific character in the plot, or if the secret is revealed it can cause the main character to be in jeopardy in some way.

Secrets are often known by the reader but not one or more main characters. It is part of the character’s past (backstory) but is not revealed, perhaps hinted at or foreshadowed in an effective way. In a romance or most genres, it is a major piece of information that could affect the relationship of the hero and heroine or any two characters or even groups.

The secrets can be found in family issues, family or personal dysfunctions, a shame, crime, or the character’s real identity). Use the secret technique, as indicated in foreshadowing the character’s problems or issues rather than describing them or bring them out in dialogue with another character who might be blackmailing the character with the secret. Feed the information slowly and as deep into the story as possible since readers care more when the know them.

6.  Alternate Scenes
Add excitement in any genre by stopping at a most exciting event and changing to another scene. Example, a woman alone in a cabin in the woods loses power, and then hers a strange noise. Stop scene and move on to the people searching for her, a friend or family member concerned that she’d taken the trip alone. Then revert back to her scene where she makes a decision or looks at options about what to do. Move scene back to her family’s concern and the decision to drive to the cabin. Scene reverts back to the heroine.

Do not overuse the scenes but it can be very effective in keeping readers glued to the book. More than one scene can intervene but it must be meaningful and logical. For example, a scene might revert to a police department received a bulletin that a criminal or patient from a mental institution has escaped. This technique is sure to build tension.

7.  What If. . .
This technique is well-known, but it’s one writers done always use. Ask what if? Then come up with various events or action might happen to add a conflict to the main character’s life. For example:

  • Creates an event through another character or twists of fate.
  • What if the main character’s home burns?
  • What if he misses the train and loses the account, misses his appointment, or some other crisis?
  • What if a neighbor moves in who creates new fear for the main character?
  • What if accused is innocent and attempt to help prove it fails?

Donald Maas suggests another kind of  “what if” that is very effective. Ask yourself what you would never do and ask what happens if you must. Now do this to a character. Force him or her to do something they would never do.

As you consider this possibility remember each characters has a personality, qualities, values, and morals. These influence the things they do and things they don’t do and things they believe in and things they are against. This type of “what if?” creates great conflicts within the character.

Sue would never be seen in public without makeup and appropriate clothing.
What if an emergency happens that she must act.

Detective Joe would never go alone to find a suspect.
What if his partner is wounded and he must act or let the suspect escape.

John fears heights.
What if he must climb a mountain to save a friend.

Susan is always a loyal friend.

What if she finds herself having to turn against a friend to defend herself.

8.  Remove A Suspect Or Character
Think of what can happen if as you begin your story to cut a character from the novel who has an important role. What happens to the story? This can happen if you have a traditional editor. Sometimes they think you have too many characters or the character is taking away tension from the main characters. So you have to cut that person. Now the decision is who will get the role that the cut character was to serve in the story.  Here’s an example: Julie and her mother do not get along. When her mother becomes ill she hires a caregiver. Let’s say, an editor says delete the caregiver. What do you do? To add tension to the novel, Julie becomes caregiver. It will strength the conflict and also give an opportunity for the mother and daughter to resolve their issues

If you are looking for a way to pump up the sagging middle, make a list of your story characters and their roles. Think decide who you can and who will take the role to enhance tension and add more conflict to your plot

9.  Add A Suspect Or Character
Removing a character is one way to strengthen plot’s middle, but the same can happen by adding a character.  It can give more story and create more tension. In the same way a subplot adds tension a new character can do the same. Add a parent to your story who is ill or who meddles. Add a neighbor who gossips or calls the police on the character’s dog or one who seems to act suspicious. Have an ex-boyfriend show up and add tension to an already struggling romance.

10.  Place A Character In An Impossible Situation
By setting up a plot that adds new levels of complication to the story, authors add tension and conflict to a sagging middle. An impossible situation is like a no win situation. No matter what the character does, someone will be hurt. For example: To remain in his position at the firm he must do something illegal or to remain with the woman he loves he must admit his father’s crime

11.  Twist The Expected Action
Novelists are often too agreeable and follow the expected rules too closely. Everything seems to work out. They go on a picnic and have perfect weather. He asks her for a date, she says yes. The teen wants a car and his father gives him one for his birthday. She expects an engagement when he takes her to a romantic restaurant, and he gives her one. A snowy winter road makes driving tense but she sees a snowplow and follows it to her destination.

Instead of making all things work out. Go and a picnic and it rains, ants are ferocious, it’s overcrowded and loud. Jim asks Susie for a date and she says no. The teen begs for the car and dad hints at a big surprise and gives the teen a new bicycle. The woman expects an engagement ring, but the man of her life says he wants to be free. The woman drives off into a heavy snowfall and spins out on the highway into a large trench.

12.   Twist The Premise
As in the twists above, stories can also be twisted since they are built on a premise which is a logical assumptions. They are the things we expect. While a picnic date with rain is a minor twist to the expect fun activity, a premise is a deeper assumption that most people make. A romance is a happy ever after story, a murder mystery will be solved, and a cuddling, smiling husband and wife have a happy marriage. Some examples of a twisted premise you may have seen in a movie.

  • Guy gets girl – – Twisted premise in Under A Tuscan Sky
  • Killer gets caught – No Country For Old Men
  • What you see in a setting or action is truth. – Sixth Sense, The           Village, The Secret Window

A twisted premise creates the unexpected. It stimulates the story line and the more twists in the story line the more exciting the middle. Twists sometimes leaves the reader hints or foreshadowing but done in such a way that they are often missed until the book is read or the movie ends and then comes the “Wow, I missed that.”

I hope both Part I (Click if you missed it) and Part II of dealing with a sagging middle offers you numerous ways to resolve a disappointing middle of the novel. Remember the middle is about 50% of a story. Having a slow plot through half of the book means reader disappointment and that can equal the loss of future sales.

(c) Gail Gaymer Martin 2015


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