Sunday, July 26, 2015

Lifting the sag

For my entire writing career I have struggled with “sagging middles,” fighting and failing to sustain a story’s plot in the middle. That’s right: I can write a riveting opening and a memorable ending, but the middle of my novels sag like an old mattress, whether writing a rollicking romance or a thriller-suspense. 

My last novel, Undercover, was a finalist in the Writers’ League of Texas 2013 Manuscript Competition, but judges only considered the first section, and as I said, I sizzle when it comes to the opening scenes. Alas, I have sent the novel to a dozen agents who have returned it with a “no thanks… not the novel for me… good luck…”

I’ll be honest. These rejections unleashed my Internal Critic constant taunt: “Why are you still writing? You know you’re gonna write another milquetoast middle.” I stalled on Chapter 5 of my current novel.

But no more.

I’m home from the summer writing retreat, sponsored by Writers League of Texas, in Alpine, TX, and I am so PUMPED. Thanks to the amazing novelist Charlotte Gullick, I am confident that I have the skill-set to lift and tighten those middles by following her advice.

I finally understand revision, as in “re-vision,” as in “see with a different lens.” I’m ready to look at my Undercover manuscript again, but today I’ll use a focused lens to review the plot. Does the character in each scene have a goal? Is there a drama in each scene? Predictability breeds reader boredom.

It’s okay if you don’t understand, because I do, and I am sure that Undercover, after its next revision, will be marketable. 

The current novel? No longer stalled, it awaits its turn in line.

NOTE: Please order Charlotte Gullick’s novel By Way of Water on She is a phenomenal novelist (referred to as “the current John Steinbeck” by Jody Pryor—and I agree, although I think she carves a deeper emoitonal landscape). She is also a creative writing professor at Austin Community College, and all I can say about that is, her students are both lucky and blessed.