Wednesday, 7 July 2010

The Saggy Middle

After Writer's Bottom, one's thoughts lead inexorably to the saggy middle, although this time I'm referring to the novel.  Most people have an energy and impetus that propels them through beginning a novel.  Their characters intermingle, act and react.  All is well.  Scene follows scene, but gradually it all starts to slow down.  Writing becomes harder, and The End seems a very long way away.  The dreaded saggy middle has arrived.  

The doyen of scriptwriting analysis, Syd Field, called the solution to saggy middle 'the pinch'.  It was a scene which turned the story into a new direction.  Terry Pratchett once suggested that all a writer had to do was bring on a naked woman brandishing a flaming sword (which would certainly send my novels into a completely new direction).  Basically, something BIG needs to happen.

But when I say BIG the incident may, in itself, be quite a small action.  It's the repercussions which are large.  For example, half way through the film Gladiator Maximus is told that if he gets to Rome and wins the crowd over, he'll meet the emperor.  Since he'd like to kill the emperor, this gives him the will to survive - and his desire for revenge drives the second half of the film.

Halfway through, Cinderella dances with the prince and they fall in love, without which none of the clock striking or shoe losing would be important.  In many detective stories, it looks as if the mystery is solved when - da dah! half way through something happens that points the finger elsewhere (there's another murder which the No 1 suspect couldn't have done, possibly because the victim is the no 1 suspect).

I can remember laughing aloud when I read the mid-point event in Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler, it was so simple - just a line of dialogue, but it turned everything before up on its head by making the main character realise he'd been looking at life from the wrong angle. So, the solution for a saggy middle is an event which changes direction, and not 100 sit-ups.

Fancy a holiday in France with me? I'm teaching a week long course on Writing Mainstream Fiction at a fab chateau in the South of France in September. More details? Contact Chateau Ventenac.


liz fenwick said...

100 sit ups might be easier!

Sarah Duncan said...

Yeah, but you'd have to do them every day for the rest of your life - easier in the long run to get on with editing!