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How to Write: Sagging Middles

So, how is it going? Have you gotten through the first one thousand words yet? Two thousand? Usually by this time, I know if a book is going to be finished or not (as a reader and as a writer). Some books start out strong and then about act two, something weird happens.

It’s called the middle.

No matter how hard we try, boring, inane activity, and sagging plots will hit us in the middle of a book. We sort of run out of steam, or if you are a pantser, you can’t see where the story is going and it takes a while to allow the characters and story to unfold.

So, what does one do about such a phenomenon? Well, I am glad you asked.
There are a number of things you can add in about this time.

  • a mentor character
  • a inside look at the villain
  • an unexpected death
  • an enemy
  • a twist
  • But you have to know what to do with all this extra stuff to make it fit into the plot. If you are writing a romance, this is where the relationship is looking rocky. If you are writing a mystery, this is where the second death happens – you know the one that solidifies we have a serial killer and so on.

    There is only one word for making the middle soar.

    CONFLICT

    Tighten up the middle of your book with conflict

    That sounds a little harder than it has to, but adding in suspense and conflict is one of the most difficult things we can do as writers. Sometimes we hate to hurt our characters. We want them to live a lovable life that has no rocky road. The problem with that is, no one wants to read one of those books.

    When a character faces a mountain with a wind storm going on including snow and ice pelting down that’s suspense. When you add in a rock giant throwing boulders at them trying to knock them off the ledge…well, that’s conflict at its best.

    So, here’s the formula for fixing a sagging middle and it is not original at all. I never thought of it and yet I have used it many times.

    “Send your character up a tree, place a man-eating lion at the ground. Put an ogre on the lion’s back and make him throw rocks at the character. Have the character look up to see nowhere to go. Down is death and up is impossible. Now what do you do?”

    Putting your characters in impossible places and getting them out of them is how to write conflict and it is absolutely the best way to fix your muddling middles.

    I hope this little bit has helped. Don’t forget you can get all the posts in one place here. And guess what? Chapter four is up too. Check it out HERE.

    Tinkerbell: A tribute

    I am interrupting your Friday Internet musing to post up pics of my beloved Tinkerbell who passed away on Monday, July 20, 2015. And to tell her story. My good friend, Kimberly Koz (who is a true animal friend and fan) said that as a writer we should be telling stories. I haven’t done much of that this week, I’ll readily admit. But Tink has a story that deserves to be told and in doing so, maybe I will find some peace.


    Tinkerbell, a dog’s life

    It was a lazy gray Saturday and I had to take my daughter to the playhouse in Memphis to rehearse for a play that was going to Scotland on international stages. I knew it would be hours before we could come back home, and I would be stuck in the car waiting, or sitting with other parents in the tiny waiting area. They didn’t allow parents to be anywhere near the kids. Too much drama.

    So, I decided to take off and go to the flea market in Midtown. It wasn’t far from the theater and I could do some much needed walking while I waited.

    When I got there and started down the first aisle. Some people had a few crates set up on the end with puppies in them. They were ohmigod loud, barking, and yipping, and generally making the shoppers crazy. The flea market was held in one of those big warehouse buildings that had a terrible echo anyway, and yapping dogs just seemed extra loud.

    My first mistake was in stopping to watch them. My second mistake was finding one who wanted me to take her home.
    Continue reading Tinkerbell: A tribute

    Alexas_Fotos / Pixabay

    How to Write: Refusal of the Call

    Hey there How to Write fans! I hope you are getting down some good stuff. Have you had a chance to read the first three chapters of our blog book?

    I haven’t gotten any entries for the contest. If you guys don’t help me title it and take this $10 Amazon gift card, I will have to do it all myself. You know you don’t want that!

    I am going to let the contest go through the end of the month. In fact, the How to Write series is going to end at the end of the month as well. It was not designed to be a forever thing mainly because the truth is, in order to get a book written, you have to write. The best writing advice is to just sit in the writing chair and start the process. Just do it, as Nike said.

    I hope to at least get through middles and ends of books with you before we stop.

    We discussed putting the character in the ordinary world of their life, and giving them a call to adventure which will beging the story moving forward. The next thing you have to put them through is called the REFUSAL OF THE CALL. In our blog book, our ladies are going to be asked to join a fitness program. Now, just ask any member of the donut-a-day crowd–asking a woman to join a fitness club is a very bad thing. You have to make her want it. You have to make her understand how much she needs it. Watch some of those infomercials about fitness at 2 am and you will see how hard they try.

    Now think of this: She won’t want to do it. She will back away and shake her head in a definitive no. She will find every excuse not to. But wait. Shouldn’t she find that the stakes are so high that she HAS to do it or something terrible will happen?? Well, yes. Exactly. So, as the book creator, I have to have a good reason to make these characters take on this call to adventure. I have to have a reason to send them off on this journey. But that act of saying no is a pretty important part of the first pages of your book. It shows the character’s best and worst traits.

    The refusal of the call sets up the consequences your characters face if they refuse. Example: If Thomas Davidson doesn’t exercise, his diabetes is going to kill him. See? Pretty strong stuff. It also makes the character three-dimensional. We all struggle as humans. We have to make our paper people struggle too. This is a great way to write!

    It’s called conflict.

    I hope you are working on the refusal of the call for your book. Don’t forget about the contest to name the blog book! And be sure to check back this weekend for chapter four.

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    How to Write : Update and Chapter Three

    I hope you have enjoyed the creation of the plot board video, and then the post to explain what you can do with one. Remember it is not the end-all, be-all, do-all for plotting. There are as many different views on plotting as there are ways to create a plotting tool, and you may not be at all like myself.

    So this post, I am calling a general update because I have had some mighty long ones recently. On this post, I want to really encourage you guys to help me give the book a name. I refer back to the first how to write post and the description of the story, characters etc. You can go here to this post.

    I need a book title in the worst way. Give me your ideas!

    In fact, let’s have a contest.

    I will give the chosen book title winner a $10 Amazon gift card. This is a free book in most cases, y’all. Get to thinking of this title! And if you need more help on this — check out all the prior posts in the How to Write series here.

    You definitely want to READ the prior chapters before diving into chapter three, too, and you can do that here.

  • Chapter One
  • Chapter Two
  • And now, for your reading pleasure… CHAPTER THREE

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    How to write: plot board defined

    We’ve made the plot board, now let’s figure out how to use it…

    But first, did you enjoy the video on how to make a plot board? I have to say, I am not very video-able, but as a good friend told me, just be yourself. I think I accomplished that, if nothing else. And if you are late to this party, you can go here using this link to go back and read all the prior posts on how to write.

    Another of you commented and said, what do I do with this thing now? Good question! Sorry I didn’t cover it on the video, but it is worth another post.

    So today, lovelies, we are going to discuss what the plot board can do for us, and how to use it (sort of-because as always, writing is rather individual).

    How do I use a plot board?

    First of all, let’s go back and look at all of those sequences. Despite my inability to add properly (please watch video!) – there are 8 sequences in the three act structure. The first act has 2, the second act has 4, and the third act has 2.

    In the first act, the two sequences are where we introduce the character(s)in their ordinary world, issue a problem – also known as an adventure, have the hero refuse to go on the adventure, give them a mentor to advise them on why the adventure/problem has to be considered, and show them (always reluctantly) committing to the problem-solving situation at hand. In the end of this rather short 50 (script-writing) pages, we show them taking the bit in their teeth and going into the adventure resolved to finish the task. I am not sure how many written pages for a book this turns out to be, but if you consider that most screenplays lack descriptive passages, it could be a bit more in page count. I always figure I am on target if I get the first act pretty much down by the end of the third chapter, fourth at most. I can always edit it back to the first three chapters during second draft.

    For our purposes of using the plot board, if I tell you what to put in the first set of sequences, you will sort of know what to do for the whole thing so here goes…and please bear in mind, you do NOT have to do your plotting this way.

    how to write books
    Act One Sequence One

      Act One: Sequence One


    Place one color of post its in this square to designate main characters and mentors, or hero and heroine (for romance). For the main plotline (in our blog book it is about three women who find out they can do something that was once thought couldn’t be done) write out a line or two about each character. For example, I wrote out on a yellow post it “Susan Whiting wants to be independent” on a pink one I wrote “Cindy Mason wants to learn about the food industry” and on a green one I wrote “Brenda Houston wants to be successful” and on a blue one I wrote out “Thomas Davidson has diabetes”. This shows who the character is by name and story problem. I am not sure who the mentor character is going to be. It may be many different people since this story has more than one main character. And also, in the small square of this sequence, the one I said was for the conflict, I put a sticky for each character’s conflict. Susan married the wrong man. Cindy can’t make money at her blog. Brenda hates working two jobs. Thomas can’t get enough exercise.

    I think this stuff can and does change as the story goes, so you really don’t have to be too perfect with it.

      Act One: Sequence two


    The post it in this sequence is the problem expounded on. I am not here yet, so do not have examples for you…but think, what is the thing the character needs to do the most and how can I make them NOT want to do it? And finally in the conflict area, what is going to make them do it? What will send them off on their adventure?

    I hope this helped. Next post…Chapter three and a contest!

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