No, I’m not referring to that sag over the jeans waistband, but the slowing down of a story. Last Thursday the writer’s group that I attend talked about the common problem of how a story starts to lose pace and ‘sag’ about the mid-way point when writing. We talked about common reasons, such as giving away too much, too soon, solving sub-plots too soon, boredom on the part of the author. We also talked about common solutions such as adding more conflict, adding new subplots that build on the main plot and create more difficult situations for the protagonist, and so forth.
One thing came up, however, that some members were surprised about. I mentioned that a sagging middle doesn’t just refer to the middle of a story. None of us had really thought about this before, and so I figured it was worth repeating here to see what other opinions might be. A slowing down of pace, a lag in the story, a loss of the sense of the story, all those things are commonly associated with a sagging middle of a story as a whole. And yet they can happen in the middle of a paragraph, a page, even a sentence.
A problem with a middle of a paragraph or a sentence though, is harder to spot than in the story as a whole. I think it’s because those are smaller sags, almost something that needs to be seen with a microscope. It requires us writers to lean in a little closer to those words in order to spot the problem. I’ve found in a paragraph with a sag, I spot it only because my mind starts to wander, to skip ahead, or even to start revising the previous paragraph. I have to stop myself and ask what’s wrong with what I’m writing that it isn’t keeping my attention. I actually just had this happen about an hour ago. Typing away, the story flowing, and all of a sudden my mind is wandering away on its own. Sure enough, I was bored. I went back a few paragraphs to where my interest still lie, deleted all that followed, and started over. Great cure for that middle sag – cut it out and run off in a new direction.
Finally, a problem in the middle of a sentence needs even closer scrutiny because I’ve found the issue is usually a single word. Or, in my case, usually because I’ve flipped the order of the sentence in the wrong direction. Flipping it back is a quick and easy fix, but one that I have a hard time doing because I have a hard time spotting the initial problem.
Anyway, just some meandering thoughts on those sags. What do you think?