NaNoWriMo and saggy middles

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This picture of my cat, Alan, has no relevance to this post, but if you’re feeling a bit down, it might cheer you up. 

Last November I was an official NaNoWriMo coach – answering questions on Twitter and generally encouraging participants along. (For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is an event where participants undertake to write a 50,000 word novel in November.) As part of my duties I also wrote a blog post for the NaNoWriMo website. We’re now nearly approaching the middle of November, so for those participating this year, I thought some advice on saggy middles might be appropriate. And if  you’re not doing NaNoWriMo, but taking your time about writing a novel hopefully these suggestions could be helpful to you too.

For many writers the middle of your novel is often where your story starts to sag. You might have an idea of the ending, or even have it all planned out, but how you’re going to get there is unclear. Here, then, are six ideas to work those saggy middles to keep them strong, toned and looking good:

Make things even more difficult for your main characters.

Put as many obstacles in their way as possible to stop them achieving what they want. Make them get side-tracked in a personal crisis, burn down their house, have them break a leg. In other words, up the tension.

Plot the way ahead scene by scene.

Focus only on the scene you can see right in front of you. Don’t worry about all the others; worrying will only stop you writing. And once you’ve written that scene, think about the possible consequences to help you plot the next.

Don’t be too concerned about the transition from one scene to the next in your first draft; this can be worked on when you edit.

Hop over the middle section and write the ending.

Hopping over these sections is a radical action, because it hasn’t solved the problem of your saggy middle; it has only delayed sorting it out, and your ending might need to change when you do come to write it. You also need to write a lot at the beginning and the end of the novel in order to still achieve 50,000 words by the 30th of November (but remember, a book is normally 80,000 words minimum, so this should be achievable).

The benefit? This might make clearer what needs to happen in the middle so you can go back and write it.

Let the middle scenes be sketchier than the end and the beginning.

Write them as notes if you like, or as a paragraph or two for each scene. But set yourself the task of writing 20 of them, when you might only need 10. That way you’ll keep your word count up, and can delete 10 and flesh out the others when you do your editing.

Expand any subplots.

Allow your writing to go off on a tangent in the middle of the novel and see what happens. Again this might not solve the saggy middle issue, but it will keep you writing and help you hit that magic 50K.

Add in new characters to mess things up.

This comes back to my first point: to make life harder for your MC. Or perhaps the new characters can represent a different point of view.

If you are going to bring in new characters with fairly major roles, make a special note for your future self to go back and introduce them earlier on in the novel, so that readers have enough time to get to know them before the end.

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Whichever options you go for, don’t worry too much—remember everyone’s first drafts are always rough and scrappy, especially the central sections. Saggy middles can be firmed up when you edit. Good luck!

How do you solve your saggy middles? Let me know in the comments section.

Swimming Lessons

My second novel, Swimming Lessons, will be published in January 2017 in the UK, and Canada, and February 2017 in the USA. Click on the country links to pre-order.

13 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo and saggy middles

  1. Just found your blog. Been reading your book Swimming Lessons for a week now and love it! Truly compelling and inspiring me to write. Cant wait to read your other book.
    The first tip here…to make things stronger,firmer…make life harder for the MC’s. Well, that is a helpful concept in reality as well as in writing. Life has been SO hard for me lately. And this made me thrilled to think maybe it’s to firm me up and make me stronger.
    A cool quote to share…
    ” embrace uncertainty, some of the most beautiful chapters in our lives won’t have titles until much later ”
    thanks for the blog! Happy to follow and share

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much Meredith. I’m really pleased you’re enjoying Swimming Lessons, and great that it’s inspiring you to write. Life can be very hard, especially when online it looks like everyone is having an amazing time. Keep going! Claire

      Like

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