My Sagging Middle (It’s not what you might think)

So as I confessed in my last post, I left a manuscript I spent a great deal of time investing in rotting away in my basement office. I want you to know why; it lost its bearings, so to speak. Much like a sailor at sea might find navigational tools useful, writers (sometimes) need guidance when putting together bigger pieces of work.

While some writers write blindly from first page to final draft without ever looking back and wondering what will come out of their mind’s eye next, occasionally one’s mind needs a rest. This is where outlines become a useful tool.

An outline is simply that, guidelines that show from beginning to end what is going to happen next in your story. You write location, main characters, time frame and what is happening in the beginning, followed by a sequence of events that lead the protagonist closer to her goal, until finally the big crisis happens and it’s either do or die for said character. (elements like time restrictions i.e.; the character has to do something in 24 hours or so and so is getting their brains blown(hypothetically) adds a great deal of suspense and tension leading up to the big resolution.

The trouble with outlines is that when you are following your story from point A. to point B. as it is plotted out, you may find your characters have other ideas. Things may come out of their mouths that you wouldn’t repeat to your mother but if it’s not in the outline you may hesitate to use it. Don’t. Let the characters develop however your prose comes out on the page. You can always go back and edit later.

I hate outlines. So I don’t use them. That’s where my sagging middle comes into this conversation. The sagging middle is commonly understood as the point (usually the half-way point) that writers find their work has lost direction, realise it doesn’t have enough conflict or character development and it leaves(some) writers very tempted to either pitch the whole thing or start again. I suggest neither. What your novel and you may need is a sabbatical from one another to gain a fresh perspective on things.

For me, it has been eight months and I’m not feeling manuscript separation anxiety. In fact, the opposite is true. Because I put this project on the shelf I have been able to engage in other creative projects from beginning to end and sold several pieces of work along the way.

The only drawback as I mentioned in my last post is that someone out there may be looking for the script you’ve put away, so don’t leave it too long. I’m thinking I need some drama in my life, so I am returning to my manuscript this week to see what hard work and the muse will bring me from this long-forgotten project.

Was it worth forgetting that I worked my as$ off so hard for so long for a while to gain a fresh perspective? Absolutely!


2 thoughts on “My Sagging Middle (It’s not what you might think)

  1. Once I get started, I love doing outlines…it makes me flush out the story. I find it helps me see the story gaps. But that’s my style and I know it doesn’t work for everyone and I am in awe of writers who just write beautifully with no outline.

  2. I understand your problem. My sagging middle takes up the whole manuscript. I have put my manuscript away for 20 years. Yet, it is the best writing I have ever done. It comes from the soul. Which is the cause of my problem. It needs a beginning, a middle and an end. It needs structure. Those that have read it were overwhelmed. The problem is, I also get overwhelmed. Maybe one day I’ll get to it. One chapter at the time. Maybe I’ll attempt to write an outline.

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