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Fiction Groupie Archives

These are my writing posts from my former blog, spanning 2009-2012. To see new writing posts, click on the blog tab above. To see these archived post organized by topic, click "For Writers" above.

Entries in scenes (2)

Tuesday
Dec292009

Sagging Middles Part Deux: Pick up the Pace

 


Yesterday I discussed how to avoid sagging middles by making your scenes multipurpose.  But that's not the only thing to worry about.  Ultimately, the sagging middle is about pacing.  In the beginning of our book, we're usually very aware of pacing--don't info dump, jump right in (en medias res), hook your reader immediately.  But then when we hit that second act, we often forget all those components and start shoving everything in that we really wanted to put in the first act, but didn't because of the pacing "rules".  If you do that, however, you're going to drag your middle down.

 

I'm sure you've heard this before, but every page should have conflict on it, every darn one.  And that includes those in the middle.  And I know many of us can think of books we've read that this is not the case, where the pacing was more languid and subtle and were still great books--but that is the exception, not the rule.

Author Anne Mimi suggests that those books with the slower pacing often fall into one of the following categories:

1.  The book is by an already established author who can get away with more.
2.  The author is dead.
3.  The agent picked up the author over ten years ago or the book was published over ten years ago.
4.  The book was first published outside the U.S.  (Brits are apparently more patient with pacing).
5.  The book is non-fiction.


So, in other words, to give our books the best chance, we need to recognize that we live in a fast-paced, short attention-spanned, movie/internet/iphone/immediate gratification culture.  So even if you manage to hook your reader with a terrific beginning, it doesn't mean the person won't put your book down when things slow in the middle.  You have to make them want to turn every page.  And every chapter should end with a hook that leaves them wanting more.  If you can't hook the chapter end, then the scene probably needs better pacing and conflict.

 

So what happens when you realize your middle is, in fact, drooping?  First, you may want to look at why this could be the case.  Julie Moffett lists the following common culprits for the problem.

1.  You revealed too much in the first part of the book, whether that be about your characters or the plot
2.  Secondary or subplots have knocked you off course or run away with the story
3.  The conflict (internal/external/sexual) is nonexistent or weak or there is no real action
4.  You don't know what comes next so you're meandering around aimlessly
5.  The story is boring you or you realize you have major plot problems that are making the story illogical or unrealistic


Alright, so once you pick out why you're middle is dragging, what are some things you can do?  Camy Tang offers these suggestions:

1. Strive for constant change with increasing tension/difficulty--Picture your character driving down a race track, it can't be a smooth, straight road ahead.  Throw a speed bump in her way, then when she deals with that, put something in front of her that is even more difficult to manage (a herd of cows perhaps), and just when she's maneuvered around the bovine, have the wheels fall off the car.
2.  Give the character new information in small pieces--a hint there, a clue here, a fleeting expression across her friend's face that makes the MC wonder if the friend's being honest, etc.  And make getting those clues hard fought.  Don't just have the clues fall in their lap, make them work for it.  Give your reader just enough to want more, but also let them feel like he/she is closer to figuring out what's going to happen.
3.  Keep your character's eyes on the prize--You cannot lose sight of your characters' goals.  Every scene they enter needs to be striving toward whatever goal they are seeking.  Like DawnB said in the comments yesterday.  Your characters should enter each scene with a purpose--what are they trying to accomplish in this particular scene.
4.  Don't be repetitive--Do not have scenes rehash old information.  Each scene needs to add something new.  And this also goes for having scenes that "feel" too similar in setting, content, tone, etc.  If your hero and heroine are always having "let's figure out this mystery" conversations over a meal, your reader is going to get bored.  Change it up.

And one last tip from author Stacia Kane:  End your middle (or second act) with a bang.  At the conclusion of the middle, the reader should be unsure of what's going to happen and if they are going to get an ending they want.  Pay attention when reading books, this "end of the middle"  or black moment is usually easy to pick out.  In romance, this is often when the characters have a sex scene (truly ending with a bang, *snort*) that makes things worse, or the bad guy in a thriller looks like he's going to elude your hero.  Basically, the worst thing that could happen--happens.

 

Alright, I hope now you can dive into those middles and make them svelte and strong.  Now if these tips would only help with my other sagging middle--the one from all that eggnog and pecan pie.

So are you overwhelmed at the thought of conflict on every page (like I am)?  Do you have trouble getting each chapter to end on a hook?  Which books have you read that have been slow-paced but worked--do they fit those criteria above?
 
 



**Today's Theme Song**
"Stuck in the Middle With You" - Stealer's Wheel
(player in sidebar, take a listen)




 

Wednesday
Nov252009

This Magic Moment*

 

What separates a novel from being just good to being great? We can talk about plot points and characterizations and originality. All of those things, of course, count for a lot. However, what seems to really define the difference for me is if I remember parts of the book (or movie) for years to come. I could enjoy a book, feel drawn in, feel satisfied when I'm done, but if you ask me in a year or two and I can't remember much about it, then maybe the book wasn't great (or maybe I'm my long term memory is just getting worse--always a possibility.)

So that got me to thinking about what makes a novel particularly memorable. In Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb's Your First Novel (a great resource, btw), they argue that a novel is memorable because of the moments an author creates. They define five main types of moments that make a story stick with us for long after we've closed the book.

1. Opening Hearts
These are the moments that are either filled with joy or sorrow. These are often the heartbreaking moments that make us cry.
ex.) In Titanic when Rose has to let go of Jack's hand in the water. In Romeo and Juliet, when Juliet awakes to find Romeo dead.
2. Instilling Fear
These are the moments that scare the bejesus out of us. These scenes are the ones that make us get up to check and make sure that we've locked the front door.
ex.) In the movie The Ring when the little girl steps out of the tv. In Stephen King's (who is the master at this type of moment) The Shining when the wife finds the stacks of typed pages that say "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy."
3. Raising the Temperature
These moments, for lack of a more delicate way of putting it, turn us on. This doesn't necessarily mean sex; it could be a simple kiss, but it hits a hot button.
Ex.) In the Mortal Instruments series, the scene with Jace and Clary in the fairy court. In Charlaine Harris' Sookie books, (hmm, there are so many, where to start), I'll say in the fourth one Dead to the World, the shower scene with Sookie and Eric.
4. Getting a Laugh
These are the moments that make us laugh out loud while we're reading, even though we're in the middle of the airport and everyone turns to look at us. My husband gets particularly annoyed with me when I hit these in a book because he feels left out on the joke.
ex.) In Knocked Up when the friend walks into the delivery room and she screams in her most demonic voice for him to get out.
5. Winning Victories
This is the part of the book that we're all waiting for. The hero gets the girl/guy, the murder is solved, the bad guy is caught/killed, the war is won, etc.
Ex.) The examples are all over the place. Every book and movie has one of these, it's the climax. But the key is to make the reader really care about getting there. We have to feel personally invested in the outcome. If not, we're left cold.

So what do you think? Do you have these in your own book? Are these types of moments what make you remember a story? Also, what are some of your favorite moments that stayed with you long after the end of the book or movie?

**REPOSTED from 8/17/09**

**Today's Theme Song**
"This Magic Moment"-- The Drifters
(player in sidebar, take a listen)