Fixing the Sagging Middle with Mary Sullivan and Wanda Ottewell

What’s Weighing You Down?

By Loni Cameron

For the May seminar, author Mary Sullivan and editor Wanda Ottewell took us through how to fix the “Sagging Middle” – the place in the middle of a novel where the author’s wheels are spinning, the part they’re just trying to get through to reach the end. Mary and Wanda showed the group some great examples, as well as how to maintain the tension and excitement right to the end.

How does a writer know that they have a saggy middle?

For most genre fiction, everything is wrapped up neatly, with no sustainable conflict. For romance in particular, there’s a happy ending (or at the very least a happy for now). What there actually needs to be is a big conflict or issue that takes more than a conversation to fix.

Are the characters evolving? Are they happy?

“Your story is in the character flaws, not the strengths.” ~ Mary Sullivan.

Mary and Wanda used one of Mary’s developing stories as an example of how to maintain conflict, character growth, and engagement throughout a storyline. It was interesting building a GMC (Goal, Motivation, Conflict) chart out with the presenters. Some traits were already decided upon by Mary, and a couple traits were chosen on the spot. The chart really focused the character and how they would likely behave in different situations. By keeping the chart in mind while writing, it can help prevent the middle from sagging. It can also be a guide when going back and revising the piece.

Also, torture your characters.

You are constantly making things worse for your character.” ~ Mary Sullivan

This is a suggestion I’ve heard from more than just Mary and Wanda. Happy characters don’t make for an engaging story.

“You want to force your characters to make tough choices.” ~ Wanda Ottwell.

You need your characters to dig deep. Things should get worse before they get  better. However, the scene needs to have a purpose. Don’t just drop it in for the sake of the conflict. To decide if you have a saggy middle, ask yourself as you are writing or revising: “Am I spinning my wheels?” “Where is my tension?”.

“Kick them when they’re down. Sometimes that might mean giving them what they want in order to find out what they really need.” ~ Wanda Ottwell.

Is your story boring you? Then it will bore your reader.

I learned a lot during this seminar. Mary and Wanda had me rapt from beginning to end – what a great story!. Learning how to fix a sagging middle was probably one of the best workshops I attended this year. I would definitely see Mary and Wanda again, no matter the topic. There was so much knowledge and experience in everything they presented. They answered questions thoroughly and with energy. I’m excited to put what they taught me to use.

Upcoming meetings and events:

Pens ‘n Friends: Luncheon & Peer Critiques on Sunday, June 20th from 12pm to 4pm. Submissions are now closed. If you have signed up, I look forward to seeing you there.

Opening Scenes with Kelly Armstrong (rescheduled) on June 30th, from 1pm to 4pm at Ray Twinney – Please note the change in venue.

Look out for announcements about the summer WIP series. Focus will be on beginnings in July and endings in August.

Kindle Your Creative Fire: Inspiration and Exercises with Gwynn Scheltema and Ruth WalkerFree Workshop! Sunday, September 16, 1pm to 4pm at the Lion’s Hall Community Centre.

Written by

When Loni isn't reading other people's words or running around after her two young children, she spends time writing stories of her own. She finds inspiration in the little things, but also in momentous events. Loni currently resides in York Region. Twitter: @LoniStorm Instagram: loni_storm Facebook: @LoniCameronWriter

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments