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Sunday, October 1, 2023

Are you at the stage where you have a saggy middle?

cj Sez: My first dream in creative writing was to become a screenwriter. In case you don't remember my tale of how I got started, in 2001, I flew from Detroit to San Francisco to take a three-day seminar called Story from internationally renowned, story consultant Robert McKee. Didn't take long to discover I probably had no chance at that career. (Drop me a note and ask me why.)

  But the experience was invaluable for my writing career, because I learned to visualize my story. I saw that I needed to create characters who are archetypes not stereotypes and write action/dialogue scenes that show their stories. I’m a work in progress in this deep point of view, because I still learn something new every day. How characters react and what they don’t say can speak volumes to readers who enjoy trying to solve the crime or mystery as the story progresses.
  One of the ways I do that is to create a bio for every character, including the antagonist—they're the most fun. Not just the physical description but a lot of their life/backstory (which must never become the dreaded “Info Dump”). Bios help me understand what they would say and how they might react in the situation I create for them. I do bleed in a bit of their background in some scenes, trying to help the reader see and understand the character’s motivation.

  I’ve talked with writers who visualize some movie star or other playing a character in their books. Is that something you do?  I can’t do that. I don’t see a specific person, I visualize the whole characterization as I’ve written it—I’ll leave it to Stephen Spielberg or Francis Ford Coppola to find the mega-star best suited for the role (ha ha).

  Most writers, and I am very much included in that generalization, may or may not have an idea on a theme. (They should. See the Jane Friedman link below.). We struggle with an opening hook, but a lot of us also know how we want the story to end, so that’s all set. It’s the middle that can be the real problem. It wants to sag. Like an old married couple, sometimes the excitement fades away, unless, like that married couple, we work at it.   

  Shoring up a saggy middle without adding a lot of blah-blah-blah always takes a lot of editing. 

 To help me out in this process, I read the dialogue aloud as I go along. Does it sound natural? Are the sentences too complete and so full of blah-blah information that they slow the cadence and pace of the story? Adding unnecessary words can happen anywhere, but it very often happens in the middle part of a story when I’m trying to reach the word count I want/need. Often, I have to change a character’s name, a story thread, a sentence structure, or, as was true for my first novel, the whole genre —it started as an action/adventure love story that the publisher/editor changed to a romantic suspense and which I, in 2021, changed to a thriller/suspense, THE DAWGSTAR. 

  A 5-star reviewer didn’t complain about a saggy middle, so I guess I was successful. Now I work hard to keep that momentum going for all the rest of my works.

  What do you do to shore up the saggy middle of your story? And if you don’t ever suffer a saggy middle, don’t tell me. I’d feel so inept.


 In a recent post on Jane Friedman’s blog, author, editor, and book coach Sharon Skinner writes that “Theme is a critical element of story, but it is more than just the point you are making.” Read more here:


  Okay, readers, especially for you: Stop by my Facebook author page (at ) to follow my days-long series of posts spotlighting my stories and each day introduce a different author in a different genre. Follow the link to their FB pages for info on what they write, and you might just find some new favorite authors there.

  That’s it for today. You-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same. Raising prayers for a happy and safe you. 


Now a note from my sponsors:
  Perfect for the upcoming holiday: HALLOWEEN PIECES, the fourth installment of the Mobile Writers Guild anthology PIECES series.

  “Once in a Blue Moon,” a paranormal short story I’m kind of proud of, is included in this book. Paperback or ebook is available—Kindle is $1.99.

  My novels THE DAWGSTAR and DEATH ON THE YAMPA are fast-paced, thriller/suspense stories with sassy banter and a smidgen of sweet romance. (Perfect diversions for a quick weekend getaway.) The books are available on Amazon or through your favorite eTailer and bookstore. Got a library card? You can read the ebooks free from Hoopla.

  Little note: The Haunted Book Shop has some signed copies of my books in stock. TO ORDER, contact:  If she happens to be sold out, I have a small stash. Angela Trigg, the awesome owner and a RITA Award-winning author in her own right (writing as Angela Quarles) will be happy to ship you any book(s) by any author of your choice.

➜ Follow me on . . .  
➜ Amazon:    Amazon Central Author Page
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