5 Authors Show How To Avoid Writing a Sagging Middle

“The middle of our story should be the ‘meat’ of the story, as far as conflicts and arcs. Without setting up the obstacles here, any solution in the final act will seem too easy and won’t be as satisfying.” —Jamie Gold

image by HannekeV
image by HannekeV

I pulled 5 books from my shelves. I paged to the middle scene of each book. Here’s what happened in each novel in the scene just past middle. (No spoilers.)

1. The Last Sin Eater by Francine Rivers

Rivers didn’t let me rest long from a big revelation. She teased me with a ruse to free Cadi away from her parents to make a clandestine visit. Then Cadi’s brother, who’s loyal to her father, pushes Cadi for the truth. While I’m fearful for Cadi, Rivers has Cadi reveal her life’s burning secret. Now Cadi feels called to do activities that’ll put her in danger.

With the promise of new obstacles and danger, no sagging middle here.

2. Secrets by Kristen Heitzmann

Stars from BookHeitzmann reveals to Rese a secret about her mother in the middle scene. Rese tells Lance about her childhood with her mother, and Lance shares a secret from his past to show Rese he understands. Then he drags Rese from one place to another challenging her to do things he knows are good for her. But this causes her to panic, a reaction to her biggest secret of all.

What will happen next?

3. Blind Justice by James Scott Bell

When lawyer Jake thinks he’s done well in court, the judge gives him a “Doc Marten to the stomach.” In the next scene, he’s tempted to surrender to his damaging habit. When his client’s sister arrives to offer help, he rebuffs her overtures. But he has conflicting feelings toward her. She relates an instance from their childhood, to show him what he’s doing now. He runs her off, then feels he’s lost “the last light of day.”

Bell refuses to ease the tension in the middle.

4. The Shunning by Beverly Lewis

image by Foto-Rabe
image by Foto-Rabe

Midway through the book, Lewis reveals a secret from the past. A “big problem” accompanies the secret on the eve of Katie’s marriage. Lewis adds to the tension and gives Katie anxious feelings about marrying someone who isn’t her first love. Then Lewis stirs more tension and foreshadows in Katie’s thoughts reactions to the “big problem.”


Are similarities occurrng to keep the middle taut? Meaningful secrets, revelations, problems, obstacles, tension, and more secrets.

5. The Road to Testament by Eva Marie Everson

image by mike foster
image by mike foster

In the middle scene, even though the guy Ashlynne’s attracted to breaks their date, she thinks she’s made progress in handling her situation in Testament. In the subsequent scene with Will, the guy I want her to like, I think, Oh no, Ashlynne, don’t go there, as Everson sets up Ashlynne for a fall. Ashlynne over confidently refuses to listen to Will’s warning against her decision.

Again, a problem is used to keep the tension going, romantic and otherwise. I must turn the page to find out what happens.

If you want to avoid a sagging middle, design a meaningful revelation, secret, new problem, tension, or obstacle to make the reader need to know the next turn in the character’s journey.

5 examples of what’s needed to avoid a sagging middle in your novel. Click to tweet.

What happens after the middle scene of the book you’re reading, or writing?

8 Essentials to Cook Up Your Story

“Life is a glorious banquet, a limitless and delicious buffet.” — Maya Angelou

by rkit
by rkit

John and I created a straw bale garden. No dirt. No plowing. The straw bales become ovens to germinate and grow fruits and vegetables. The process mirrors what is needed to cook up a great story.

8 Essentials to Cook Up A Great Story.

Essential 1- Foundation


Chicken wire, landscape fabric, posts, and stakes.
Chicken wire, landscape fabric, posts, and stakes.

We laid chicken wire and landscape fabric to keep out the moles, voles, and weeds.


  • Before we can write a great story, we must live a great story. We must transform our hurts, scars, and successes to create something meaningful to share with others. We must lay “chicken wire” to keep out discouragement.
  • My foundation is my desire to write with God. I don the full armor of God against temptations and discouragements. (Ephesians 6:10-17)

Essential 2 – Fence

5 deer checking out our partially fenced garden
5 deer checking out our partially fenced garden


We cemented in sturdy wood posts and pounded in tall metal stakes to support the fencing mesh that protects our garden.




  • The sturdy posts are understanding plot and characterization.
  • The metal stakes are learning punctuation, grammar, and spelling.
  • The fencing prevents such things as shallow characters, weasel words, and misuse of “lay” and “lie” from entering our stories.
The 3 wires will allow tomatoes to climb.

Essential 3 – Climbing Supports


We ran wire between T-bars for plants to climb.


  • Our characters must grow during our stories. They should be able to do or be something they couldn’t do or be in the beginning.
  • If characters droop and rot, readers have little to inspire them.

Essential 4 – Straw Bales


We placed straw bales in the sun. We performed a 10-day process to turn the bales into germinating, growing ovens. Fertilizing and watering. Again and again. On day five, we poked our fingers into the straw and felt the heat.

See the fertilizer pellets?
See the fertilizer pellets?
Warm water only.
Warm water only.


  • We must cook up conflict, obstacles and disasters to give our characters challenges, failures, and successes.
  • Readers will feel the heat and beg for more.

Essential 5 – Soaker Hoses


We ran soaker hoses on top of the bales. Timers attached to the hoses water the plants daily.


  • We need to water ourselves daily.
  • A burnt out writer doesn’t write a great story.
  • For me, soaking is spending time with God. He may invite me to forget about word count and take a walk with Him.

Step 6 – Seeds


We planted seeds and seedlings in the straw.


Our stories should have themes and ah-ha moments seeded within the action, dialog, and reflection.

Essential 7 – Flourishing Plants


We watch our plants grow, reaching toward the sun.


  • Our stories grow almost by themselves. Why?
  • Because we’ve worked through the prior steps.

Essential 8 – Fruits and Vegetables

by JamesDeMers
by JamesDeMers


We pick the red, succulent strawberries and tomatoes. And enjoy.


  • Readers enjoy a satisfying story that grows them in some way.
  • For us writers, the fruit could be to:

-connect with people who’ve read our stories, or simply 

-watch our love of creating come to fruition.

Cook up your stories and get readers returning for more. Click to tweet.

In what ways have you thought about the growth of your stories?

5 Easy Tips to Deepen Your Characterization



Don’t you like characters in novels to come across so real you look them up in an online directory? My guest today, Marian P. Merritt, gives pointers to do just that. After you’ve collected her tips, be sure to learn more about her new novel, The Vigil, after her post.


Marian says:

1.  Do an Extensive Character Interview

Know your main characters well. BE NOSY! This is the only time you have a license to pry, so go for it. Ask pointed questions, delve deep into their past and get to the root of their fears, motivations, quirks, etc. There are many interview sheets available on the web, check them out to get an idea.

I suggest creating your own for two reasons:

  1. The process of determining what is important to ask and what isn’t will help you as a writer.
  2. You’ll know how to ask the questions that will bring out the important traits of YOUR characters.

Author Janalyn Voigt’s recent Live Write Breathe blog post contained a link to a Writers Helping Writers Character Profile Questionnaire.

 2.  Use Setting

Setting can have a dual role—to ground the reader in the environment, but also to symbolize the character’s emotions. Let your setting be more than a backdrop for your story, let it be an extension of your characters. A way to blend the character with the setting.

photo by John Sullivan
photo by John Sullivan

But keep it simple and use sparingly like the Filé in da Gumbo. Because a pinch enhances and blends, a handful overpowers and ruins.

Examples: An emotional upheaval in a character’s life can be symbolized by the condition of her house, car, yard, garden etc. Use something your character loves doing or caring for and show their lack of attention or increased attention because of their emotional state. 

For wonderful examples, see Sandra Leesmith’s Seekerville post where she references Mary Buckham’s book, Writing Active Setting.

3.  Use Descriptions with Actions

ID-100276538Don’t just describe. Show your character along with their actions.

Describe by telling: Jenna had a pointed nose and wide hips.

Show with Action: Jenna fisted her hands upon her ample hips and stared down her pointed nose.

Can you see Jenna a little better? We get emotion and description.

In his book, Building Believable Characters, Marc McCutcheon says, “combine a physical description with some form of action.” 

4.  Show Clearly the Character’s Goals, Obstacles, and Fears

Image courtesy of kantapat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of kantapat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Let the reader see the character’s goals. They then know what to root for and will see the roadblocks for the character. Showing your character’s strengths and flaws will be tapping into what their fears are and why. Making for a deeper more relatable character.

Art Holcomb gives more on Storyfix2.0.


5.  Give Your Reader Something They DEEPLY Care About

mp900433140.jpgThis can be: A cause, an object of great sentimental value, a place, or a person outside of their family. This gives the reader a glimpse into your character’s heart. What they hold dear tells a lot about a person. 

Zoe, thanks for having me here today. Readers, these are just a few of the ways to create deeper richer characters. Can you add an easy way to deepen characters to this list?


Marian P. Merritt -Headshot

Marian Pellegrin Merritt writes stories that blend her love of the mountains with her deep Southern roots. Her tagline, Where the Bayous Meets the Mountains, grew from both loves. She is the author of, Deep Freeze Christmas, A Cajun Christmas Miracle, and Southern Fried Christmas.

Her latest release, a Women’s Fiction novel, The Vigil, can be purchased at online retailers.

Marian is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Women’s Fiction Writers Association. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in physical therapy and an accounting certificate from the University of South Alabama.

This Louisiana native writes from the Northwest Colorado home she shares with her husband and a very spoiled Labradoodle.

Connect with her through Website, Blog, Facebook, Twitter Marian P. Merritt’s Readers Group

Buy links to Marian’s Books: http://www.marianmerritt.com/#!/cnec

TheVigil_h11658_680THE VIGIL 

Cheryl Broussard made two vows: She’d never fall for an abusive man, and she’d never return to her Louisiana hometown. But she’s learned all too well the lesson of never-say-never. Now, back in Bijou Bayou after fleeing from an abusive boyfriend, Cheryl finds work as a Hospice nurse. While reading a dying patient’s Korean War love letters, family secrets shatter Cheryl’s beliefs about her family and herself and shed light on the reason she fled her hometown. When the Broussard family secrets are revealed, can Cheryl deal with the truth and accept the blessing of a second chance for relationships with her family, old friends, and with the God she never really knew?