Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Tips to Avoid a Sagging Middle

The other day, a writer posted in WriteOn Joliet that she does a great job with beginnings and endings and not-so-well the parts between them.

We've all heard about how important it is to snag your reader from the beginning. But how does one keep that reader stuck to your story until the end? How does THE WRITER keep him/herself stuck to the story until the end?

In short, how does one keep the spring in your story and prevent the midsection from drooping?

For me, the answer is an outline, not the dreadful (or dreaded) outline many of us remember from our grade school days, but a tailored-to-you type of outline that keeps your thoughts organizedand ideas happening. For me, outlining is a process of visualizing the entire story and then breaking down the tasks into tight components. I actually do something similar when writing feature stories, although the process is brisker and, at time, nearly simultaneous, since those stories are short and dealine is often tight.

1) Write a one-sentence summary of your story. The writer should always be prepared to give a one-line summary of his story. At The Herald-News, that one-liner goes into our daily budgets. If you're pitching to agents and small presses, especially at conferences, that one line might be the only opportunity to grab someone's interest. Know your story well enough that you can pitch it in a single sentence.

Example: "Bryony" is the story of a '70's teen that trades her blood with a Victorian vampire for a trip back into time.

2) Write a back cover summary of your story. If you self-publish, you'll need one anway. This helps provide the details (or summarize them, if you already know them). If you query agents and small presses, you can use this material there.

3) Write a three-page synopsis of your story. This helps expand the details and gets your idea rolling, and, again, if you plan to pitch to agents and small presses, you might be asked to provide this. Writing it now will put you on top of the process.

4) Decide how many chapters you want in your book. Open separate files for each and name them. This mentally formulates where the details of your story will go.

5) Write the first few sentences and the last few sentences of each chapter. This ensures that the beginning and the end of each chapter is compelling and flows well into the next, keeping the string of interest tight. It also narrows what information will and will not go into each chapter.

6) Make notes in each chapter about the details of that chapter. This not only helps with plot and pacing, it gives your a framework for character development. It also lets you know where research is necesasry.

7) Write the chapters. The writing is now simplified, almost like a paint-by-number book, because much of the advance thinking is already done.

8) Refine as needed. As you write, you may decide to change elements of the plot or characters that aren't working, or you may expand parts that are. That's perfectly fine! An outline is not meant to be a static rulebook of adherence, but a flexible mold to get you started and unleash the muse.

And there ya go! :)

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