Sagging Middles

Talk about life imitating art! Sagging middles describes it all.  Some of you, of a certain age, are nodding in agreement. Others are scratching their heads. Do that while you have the hair to scratch. Smiley face

I live in south central Florida. Think all of the heat, none of the breeze. Since sometime in early June our temps have been flirting with 100 degrees and our real feel, even on relatively cool 90 degree days, have been well over 100. I’m also a runner. Not a competitive one, but one who ties on running shoes when the muse deserts.

Girl RunningThis morning, at 8 AM, trying to think up a topic for this blog, I laced up my running shoes in 87 degree temperatures. To compensate for the increased heat, I’d recently cut my runs from five miles to three. I ran the first mile and started the second. Heat indexes were now topping the 100-degree mark. You see where I’m headed? Mile two, the middle mile. There I was, forcing one foot in front of the other thinking, I’ll never make it. My hamstring hurts. Is that a pain in my knee? I should stop. That’s when my watch chimed that I’d finished the second mile and was on the home stretch. The last mile. Energy flowed again. Heck, anyone can run a mile! And I had my topic.

Those dreaded middles. Of runs, of age, of stories. Middles are where all the action really happens. The first part of life, and runs, and stories is the set up. The inciting incidents. The plans for attack. We don’t yet know exactly what’s going to happen, but we sure do have the conflict perking. We’ve met a lot of the players. Some will stay the course. Others will fall by the wayside. We have our basic story. Mystery, romance, sci fi, pure literary it’s all in the first few chapters. Now we are in for the longer jog. It’s the middle of the tale. The writer’s job is to move it along. Make it a page turner. Keep the reader caring while we lay out the crises surrounding the protagonist and set the path for the ultimate resolution.

Sagging catKind of like life, or a run, there’s a lot of ground to cover in the middle. Some of it is a slow, painful slog that no one likes to read. Other bits serve to define the character, the antagonist, and the villain. Necessary stuff to share, but the middle of a book takes up danged near three quarters of the word real estate. It’s a balancing act for the writer. Make it interesting. Impart important information, keep the action and the timeline solid. Write, edit, cut, write, edit, cut, polish. In the middle every word has to count. It’s how the end resolves.

The payoff? Emerging from the middle with a story that shines. Some writers and readers find the middle the most enticing part of any story. It’s where the action happens, the meat between the bread. Others love the end. They’ve paid attention throughout the middle and followed the story but now, they are eager for finish line. No more build up. This is a sprint. The last eighth or so of the story wraps up all that went before and there’s comfort drawn from the carefully crafted lead up and the satisfying finale.

What kind of a reader/writer are you? Do you crave the building conflict of the middle or do you long for the final scene?

Kait loves to hear from fans and critics, check out her website at www.kaitcarson.com; follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kaitcarsonauthor, on twitter at @kaitcarson, or e-mail her at kait.carson@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

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8 thoughts on “Sagging Middles

  1. Oh Kait, my dear, you nailed exactly why I left my beloved Florida behind twelve years ago and moved to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Upstate South Carolina. The heat and humidity were dragging me down, WAY down, As someone who grew up without air conditioning in my home or schools (yes, first through twelfth grade), I finally could stand the sweltering humidity no longer. (And for those of you who’ve never experienced the wet wool blanket humidity of a Florida day or night, come on down and try it out … without air conditioning, of course!)

    Here in the Upstate of SC (where GA, NC, and SC meet–check your map) we are blessed with low humidity, such humidity that I once thought only was possible in the desert climes of our Southwest. We are currently enduring a heat wave; our high today was 99 degrees, but our humidity was only 16 percent! I can only attribute this to being on the leeward side of the Blue Ridge Mountains. In Florida I would have been drenched in sweat and forced inside within ten minutes; here, today, I enjoyed Happy Hour on our deck overlooking the lake and never even broke a sweat!

    OOPS! Which brings me to the gist of your post. To me, every story is different, a fact which I find enjoyable in fiction. It doesn’t matter to me how the story unfolds, as long as it keeps me riveted and entertained. If the setup takes half the book, so be it. If the middle takes more, or less, of the subjective allotted time normally considered THE standard, so be it. All I’m looking for is a dynamite story that grabs my attention early and keeps me hooked until the climactic conclusion. I’m not a stickler for “this many page, and that many pages,” to be devoted to any particular section of a story. A well-told tale will unfold as needed. And in as many pages as it takes to tell the story. To hell with formulaic parameters that crowd our creativity into pre-determined blocks!

    Thanks for an interesting and thought-provoking post, Kait. Now go and enjoy your next run. (Which, by the way, I despise. I was quite an athlete in my younger days, but always detested running. Go figure!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Mike. For some reason us warm weather wimps did not need a/c in our younger days. Our houses were set up to compensate and managed to stay cool in summer too.

      I’ve found that my books naturally fall into the three act structure, but where the acts open and close do tend to vary with the story’s needs.

      I didn’t say I LIKE running. Believe me, I’d rather be swimming, but over the years, I’ve found it to be (a) efficient, and (b) portable. If I had a better option,,,,I’d be there. That’s why I don’t do marathons, etc.!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. The older I get, the more I don’t care nearly as much about the final scene (i.e. the payoff). Usually, if I’ve read that far, I care about the character(s), and I don’t want the book to end. More and more, I read for fresh language, author’s insights on the human condition, and interesting (and fresh) ways to describe and portray characters. The plot? Don’t particularly care anymore. Which is probably why I’m reading less and less mystery these days.

    As a writer, I enjoy writing the build-up scenes/backstory/exposition. The penultimate scenes: those are a chore for me. The last novel I wrote was not a mystery, and now I’m writing a mystery, and I kind of want to stop and write another character-driven story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know exactly what you mean, Max, A well written book with fresh language is like a warm whirlpool bath. There is nothing better. I have several that I read over and over just for the sheer joy of the wordsmithing. Few writers have that level of talent. Those that do…magic!

      Like

  3. Nice post Kait! Dallas is famous for its loathsome heat and we are in the middle of it now. To go outside is to be quickly drenched in sweat. I have walked my Doberman during these sweltering days for some years in a nearby park. I always bring a hugs bottle of water, drench the dog first and several times later, and walk the track with a baseball cap and a lot of sunscreen. You don’t need a sauna in Dallas. Just a well watered wet dog and a baseball cap. As to your posts, I think you are a mercilessly organized person and writer. It’s a good trait and I wish I could say the same for myself, but I write whatever comes to me when it comes to me and I edit each part as the story forms with only a general thought as to beginning, middle, and end. This seems to work for me as I constantly find things tying together from past details. I layer the story as I edit and it grows like a sponge all at once. There are many good rules and tips and I don’t ignore them but my characters do unexpected things as if someone else lived inside me and quietly writes in the background. Have fun on your deck Michael.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks, MJ – I wish I were as organized as my posts make me sound. Writing is an organic process for me. I have struggled to outing (most I can do is bullet point a couple of chapters in advance) and do all those wonderful character sheets…Nope. But my books do tend to follow their own arcs. And it varies by the type of book.

    I’m curious, do you use scrivener to write? I love the flexibility it offers both in the writing ad in the editing!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Sagging middles are never fun. 🙂 As a reader I love a story that builds and keeps me guessing and wondering where it’s going, what’s going to happen, who or what will win out. As a writer I love writing the middle part of the story. I love building that intrigue and keep it building. I often write many of the middle chapters before I’ve finished the beginning or end as I find it helps me to build up to it more realistically. Great article. I can tell you I would be doing more than sagging in your heat. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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