"The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed."
"The first time she sliced into a man, it made her a little sick. After her last 150 cuts though, she didn't even blink."
"I was there the day they pulled the plug on my sister's life support."
The first line in a work of fiction is powerful. The previous three lines begin the work of Orson Scott Card,Stephen King, and Julie Carwood. Whether you enjoy Epic Fantasy, Romantic Suspense, or Science Fiction, if the first line or two hooks you. You're in..
Writers are encouraged to work diligently on powerful first lines, polished first pages, and perfected submissions for agents and publishers. Unfortunately, at times, often this instruction only is applied to the first 10-50 pages of a manuscript. Even novice writers know that a final scene full of action, despair and a victory over your foes is paramount to a satisfactory read. So while the author is editing, revising, plotting, and polishing the novel, the first and last parts of the book receive much of the writers attention.
What about the middle though?
As I read to learn what both successful and mid list writers are doing to make their stories great, I find a lot of great beginnings, exciting final scenes and hooky first lines. I also find a lot of soggy middles.
One of my favorite novels in recent history was made into a movie. I thought the book was excellent and I was prepared to be disappointed by the film. I was pleasantly surprised to discover...The screen writers got rid of the soggy middle. How'd they do that?
In a movie like "Transformers, or Spiderman, this can be accomplished with fancy acrobatics, robotics, or special effects. The movie I spoke of earlier had some action scenes, but less than in the book. The soggy middle came from the author's attempt to develop the characters in an action setting. It was still soggy. Likewise, an action flick with a lack of character development drags you through explosions, car chases, and the end of the world so many times; you're begging for the movie to end. In that case the soggy middle is downright painful.
So what's the answer? How do you keep a reader engaged and in-love with your characters for a couple of hundred pages without getting soggy?
The best answer I've found comes in the way of two different resources.
-"Save The Cat" byBlake Snyder
-Best selling author Jessica Brody.
Blake Snyder has two different versions of his craft book "Save The Cat" that can be purchased on amazon or other book outlets. Save The Cat provides extensive examples and helps for writers to learn the 'beats' necessary to build a story. The fifteen 'beats' are spelled out and explained in his book for both authors and screen writers.
Jessica Brody teaches his principles, lays out the nitty-gritty of each of the 'beats' and goes into much more detail. Her website jessicabrody.com also provides a form under tools for writers where an author can enter in the page number of their manuscript and the form will tell you if your 'beats' fall in the right place in the manuscript.
For me...the soggy middle starts around beat #6 or 7.
"Fun and games" is what its called. Brody explains that this part of the story may not be fun for your characters. They have entered a new world from the beginning of the story. Its possible they enjoy this new world, but its more likely they are struggling. This beat is called "fun and games" because its the reason your reader picked up the book. What did you promise in the first 50 pages? Is it a troubled romance? A stalker bent on murder? a successful businessman falling into homelessness? You must deliver on your promises here. Your reader must invest in the characters development along with the direction the story is heading.
-The midpoint- Here the story must hit a high or low point. Not too high, or too low but what's called a false victory or defeat. When Harry Potter catches the snipe. When Shrek rescues the princess from the dragon. When your hero becomes devoted to the girl or the girl realizes she is in-love.
As your story draws closer to the final battle the lead character will experience an 'all is lost' moment, a 'total defeat 'the dark night of the soul' and then your exciting ending. Before that though...
If you had a false victory then the character needs to get cocky, feel safe, end up with their hero or have a fantastic plan while the bad guys close in.
If you had a false defeat then your character needs to be throwing in the towel, giving up on love, doubting their own abilities and letting the antagonist win. The more emotional this is for the reader, the better the victory will feel.
Now, if this patterned way of writing were fool proof we'd never read another bad novel, or sit through another torturous movie. Because all writers are a little bit of a fool, otherwise we'd get a real job with steady income and benefits, we mess it up. The point is the fool in each writer will have to find the best way to keep the reader's attention. My soggy middles forever haunt me. I am always looking for better ways to stiffen my story and make my readers desperate for more of my work.
If any of you have solutions or suggestions for soggy middles...leave me a comment. I'd love the help.
In the meantime, keep writing and reading.