Avoiding Baggy, Saggy Middles in Stories

How do you know if your story has a baggy, saggy middle?

If you’re reading, you want to put the book or story down. You have the urge to yawn. Your attention wanders. You start flipping through Netflix while skimming to see when the plot starts moving again.

If you’re writing, you lack the motivation to keep going. You find yourself doing everything except writing. You feel sluggish like you’re wearing lead boots instead of winged sandals, and the words just won’t flow. You’re writing the parts you “have to write” instead of the parts you’re excited to write.

You’re connecting the compulsory plot points in the opening to the corresponding plot points in the ending. You’re moving characters through the scenery. Expositional scenes. Backstory.

The baggy, saggy middle is made up of the Boring Bits.

Now, ask yourself. When you’re reading, do you want to read the Boring Bits? Or do you want to skip ahead to the Good Stuff?

Yeah. You want to get to the meat of the story.

But so often, as authors, our ego or our insecurities or some combination of both get in the way. We either want to give every single tiny detail of exactly how a scene happened, or we’re afraid that if we write a scene the way we want, it won’t work. We strip our voice out. We stick to the scripted expectation of what we think high fantasy or hard sci-fi should sound like. We give all the specifications for how many cubits long the ship is or how many giraffes are riding on the ferry, when really, no one cares.

Or we’re worried the reader won’t be able to put the pieces of our plot together and come up with a storyline that makes sense. So we spoon-feed them until they’re gagging on information like a hospital patient on industrial green Jell-O.

I have good news and bad news.

The good news? You can skip the boring bits.

The bad news? You still have to convey essential information to the reader.

It’s your job as the author to make sure the reader has the information they need when they need it (neither before or after but exactly when), and that the delivery of this information is camouflaged so seamlessly into your story that the reader doesn’t even see it.

Work on identifying your own baggy, saggy middles.

This is a skill that it took me time in the slushpile to hone. Sadly, the other place you can learn this skill is reading Kindle free books published before they were ready for publication (if you want more about this, check out my last lecture in the Kindle publishing course).

Alpha-readers are essential to finding baggy, saggy middles. Any place an alpha-reader notes she started to skim is a good indication of a saggy spot.

Any section of your story you find yourself unwilling to write is probably a saggy spot.

Now that you know what you’re looking for, what to do about it?

Land the ending.

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