Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Guest Kim Watters: Cures For A Sagging Middle

Okay, I’m depressed. You know, that mind numbing depression you face when you stare at that manuscript after you’ve ditched yet another pair of too-tight pants that are now lying in a pile on the floor. Finally I realize that I’ve hit that road bump of mid-life, and in a writer’s life, I have a sagging middle; one of the most common problems a writer faces. I’m sagging under the weight of the story.

How did this happen?
For my body, all it took was a few years at a desk job and a healthy appetite for sweets. For my book, all it took was a lack of conflict. Sigh. It took a bit longer for my body to decide to rebel than my characters, but still. I mean, come on. It didn’t have to happen this way but I have no excuse. No thyroid issues to blame it on. The blood tests came back normal. Nope. Just the daily inactivity of sitting in front of a keyboard and trying to achieve that happily-ever-after without an outline or game plan.
So I go back to the drawing board and pull out my old notes on how to write a book. Refresher courses are good in real life and for our characters. Voila. The focus of the middle of the story is to push your characters to the climax. Weak structure and wandering from the main plot will make your story cave in on itself. Duoh! Note to self: panster syndrome aside, at least create an outline to keep on task. I need to keep in mind that every part of the novel should be integral to the whole and make sure to sustain sufficient conflict to sustain the story. I need to make the character stakes high enough to matter to the reader and create the conflict where the character has to make a decision or take action.
For me that action is to start a workout routine and do an outline for each chapter. Sure the panster in me will change things when I get there, but a basic roadmap is good. It will remind me that each section has to have four events: Inciting incident, complication, crisis, and resolution. It will remind me to add new problems, new conflicts, or a new direction and make each obstacle more difficult. Change the way the characters see their situation and don’t hold back.
I’m not. Fortunately for me, the sagging middle of the manuscript is going to be an easier task to face than going for a brisk three mile walk each morning.
The manuscript won’t require expending an enormous amount of energy or sweating from places I didn’t even know had sweat glands or snubbing that last spoonful of ice cream left in the scooper after I dish out some for the kids. Nope, fixing the manuscript is just going to involve massive amounts of brain energy and some more computer time, which is what got me in trouble in the first place. (We won’t talk about the chocolate, though.)
So if I need a workout, then it’s time to put my characters through the wringer too.
While I’m out for the brisk walk--I really don’t like to run--I mentally add a new dimension or depth to my characters and force them to grow and change by throwing another obstacle at them. If I can work hard at my goal, so can they.
While I’m doing stomach crunches, which I hate by the way, I can twist the plot into a different direction that forces my characters to make different choices. For me and my own plot direction with the dreaded diet, that might be whether or not I allow a piece of chocolate or a slice of French Silk Pie into my mouth or a stick of celery.
Or I can tape a picture of that skinny pair of pants to the front of the refrigerator, which would serve as a constant reminder of my goal and strengthen the conflict within just as I can strengthen the conflict between my characters by revisiting their goals and motivations.
I’m determined to get rid of both my sagging middles. So what’s stopping me? Nothing.
Watch out. That woman waking quickly down the street with a picture dangling in front of her while she’s doing stomach crunches to boot is on a mission. Stay out of her way or you may be written into her next book.
She's saved countless lives, yet there's one person emergency room doctor Elizabeth Randall can't rescue—her adopted daughter, Jordan. Perhaps meeting her biological father, Blake Crawford, will be the lifeline Jordan needs. The handsome, guarded firefighter takes risks every day. But facing the daughter he never knew—along with lovely Elizabeth—has him thinking about family. With fatherhood thrust suddenly upon him, there's no way he can turn his back on his sick child. Will working together to give Jordan a second chance at life also lead them to a chance at love?
At twelve years old, Kim Watters fell in love with romance after she borrowed a romance novel from the book shelf of her older sister, Karin. An avid reader, she was soon hooked on the happily ever after endings. For years she dreamt of writing her own romance novel, but never seemed to have the time.
After she graduated from Northeast Missouri State University (Truman State) with a degree in Business Administration/Management, she moved to Chicago to pursue another dream of being an actress and model.
Tired after six years of the hustle and bustle of the city, she relocated to a small town in Arizona just north of Phoenix where there is no public transportation and the cowboys still ride their horses to the bars. The wide open spaces of Arizona gave her the inspiration to sit down and finally begin to write.
Eight years and three manuscripts later, she sold her first novel to Avalon Books and finally Harlequin’s Love Inspired a few years later.
She belongs to Romance Writers of America, Novelists Inc., American Christian Fiction Writers, Valley of the Sun Romance Writers, Desert Rose RWA.
She still lives in that small town in Arizona with her son, Shane, daughter, Emily, three cats, one paranoid hamster and two fish.


  1. Thanks for such a great post Kim!

    After spending months rewriting my first ms and having to lose about 20k of rambling scenes that went nowhere I've learnt to ask, as I'm writing, what is the point of this scene? Where is the POV character going to be at the end that has moved them toward the climax?

    It's not a magic fix, and I always need to go back and up the conflict, but at least (so far) it's saved me hours of writing blah scenes, though it has meant ditching a few halfway through when I've realized they have no point!

  2. Welcome Kim, the last book I just read had this issue. It also had the issue of to many words that were not needed and seemed to tread water so to speak. I wondered If I would ever finish it but the ending was better paced.

    (Its scary I now can understand what is wrong with a book more than just it was so slow and like reading a diary in places, thats a diary like I would write, got up, had breakfast, thought I would write a letter but decided not to etc,)

    Love the look of your new book the cover is so sweet.

  3. Kim, what a wonderful post! Let me just say how much I hate your analogy because I relate to both all too well!!!

    Oh mylanta, you had me grinning and sighing while sucking my gut in.

    My problem is I love editing. I don't mind re-writing. I like taking off in new directions. BUT I HATE WATCHING WHAT I EAT.

    There. I said it. Out loud. In front of God and everybody.

    But I do love coffee, being a proper New Yorker!!!! So I brought along the Keurig, and creamers, and do try the Wild Mountain Blueberry which sounds weird but is pure deliciousness-in-a-mug.

    And we've got breakfast croissants stuffed with a ham/sausage/scrambled egg and cheese filling.

    To die for.

    If you're going low-carb (which is what I should be doing) then do it without the croissant.

    Yes, it's a tradeoff!!! Isn't everything????? Kim, thanks for being here today!

  4. Laughing at how you torture your characters as an outlet for having to torture yourself. LOL. Wonderful way to make your point though and I recognized some sagging in my muddy middle as I read your post. Sigh. I have to get with the program, I guess...only I'm not giving up my chocoate -- not in real life or fictional!!!!

  5. I am at that point in my manuscript. You have great advice but I am finding myself thinking about that poor paranoid hamster.

    Thanks for the post and a great read. I loved your latest. Best so far and I have loved them all!

    Peace, Julie

  6. Good morning, Kim!! Ah, muddled middles and episodic scenes...two of our greatest fears! Thanks so much for the tips--and a smile to start off our day!

    AND CONGRATS on the RT Book Reviews 4 1/2 stars for this latest book!! Well done!

  7. Sagging middles, I can relate! Unfortuneatly on both accounts.

    Like you, I've found a loose outline helps me keep my plot on track.

  8. LOL, KIM ... at my age, a sagging middle is only the tip of the iceberg ... or maybe I should say Jello!!! ;)

    Great blog, Kim, and goodness, we have things in common (besides the threat of sagging middles) -- we both embarked on romance reading in pre-adolescence AND my son, DIL and daughter all graduated from Truman University!! Great school!!

    Thanks for coming to Seekerville and thanks to Glynna for bringing you!!


  9. Hi Kim, nice to see ya on seekerville today, not so nice to think of sagging middles real or fictional...
    What a comparison you girls always come up with the neatest post-love to read them.
    Well I guess hollywood's loss is our gain-so glad you decided to be an author and make great stories for us to read...
    Paula O(kyflo130@yahoo.com)

  10. KIM!
    Welcome to Seekerville and thanks for bringing a smile on my face this morning. :)

    Seems like you had an interesting carrer path... actress and model.. Ouh!

    I soo relate to this post (thanks). And I'm retaining this : If I can work hard to reach my goal, why can't they?

    Good day to y'all!

  11. Wow. What a great response so far. I'm honored to be here, thanks Glynna. And thanks everyone for the warm welcome. I do work a day job with no internet access to outside sites and then a chapter meeting tonight so it might be a while before I can get back but I'll try.

    Hi Kara. Sounds like you've got a good handle on the problem. I usually find out after the scene is written! But I never delete. I may be able to use some of the scene later or in a different book.

    Hi Jenny. Good to see you again. I hope you're feeling okay. We'll make a writer out of you yet. The first thing is to understand what's wrong and you definitely have a handle on that.

    Hi Ruth. Yeah, well, I write a lot of articles based on my life-or my kid's lives. LOL. My sagging middle has gotten smaller these days with a workout routine, but I have to admit, your breakfast sounds like just the thing I need this morning. What time is it being served today? I'll hop the next flight out.

  12. Okay, now for some more comments...

    Hi Kav. Give up chocolate? No way. Now that would be pure torture! Moderation is the key in both food and words.

    Hi Julie, yes poor Hermes the Hamster. It's a good thing he's nearly blind (all hamsters can't see more than a few inches) or he'd have a heart attack with the cats sitting on top of his cage and next to it, staring, licking their chops. LOL. Thanks for the kudos. That book was very hard to write.

    Hi Glynna. Thanks for inviting me here today. :)

    Hi Rose. Thanks for stopping by. Sorry you can relate on both ends, but good for you for recognizing it and taking charge!

  13. Great blog, Kim!

    Love the advice for both types of sagging middles!

    Also...I lived in Kirksville, MO, for three wonderful years. Hubby taught ROTC at Northeast Mo State! The folks on the faculty were delightful, and we made strong friendships with people in our church that have lasted over the years.

    So glad to have you blogging with us in Seekerville today!

  14. And some more comments..........

    Hi to the other Julie. Yeah, the sagging middle is just the start. Even though I don't have the body of a twenty year old any more, I think I'm more comfortable with what God has given me now, than before. There is something to be said about age. To funny your son and DIL went to Truman. Of course it was NMSU when I went there. Loved the Quad and lived in Centennial Hall until I moved off campus.

    Hi Paula. Thanks for stopping by. Yeah, we writers are a creative bunch, aren't we? Never thought of going to Hollywood though. Hmmm.

    Hi Ganise. You're welcome. That's why I write these kind of posts. LOL. Yes, I've had an interesting career path. I was just showing a friend yesterday my old portfolio. Definitely no sagging middle there! Now I'm an accountant. Talk about left brain, right brain issues!

    Have a blessed day everyone. Off to ride my bike and work off my own sagging middle. I'll try and check back before I leave for work.

  15. Hi again, Kim! Like you, I never "throw away" discarded and paragraphs either if I really like them. Each book I write has a separate Word document that I call a "clips holder" -- and into that I cut & paste things that aren't working in my current WIP. Later I'm often actually able to rework them and weave them in someplace else--or even into a different book!

    Missouri has some of the most beautiful State and private college campuses in the country. I knew Debby had connections with Kirksville, but how did I not know your kids went to Truman, Julie? As a former Missourian, I need to know these things!!! :)

  16. I love editing, too, Ruthy! Which is why I wish I could write faster so I could spend more time in that phase rather than breathlessly racing up to the deadline with little time for what I call "the fun stuff."

    Kim's from the Southwest, so I brought some homemade salsa to go along with Ruthy's ham/sausage/scrambled egg and cheese filling croissants! :)

  17. Hi, Kim...now you have me wondering where you live...i'm guessing Anthem? No, i'll not try to stalk you if you tell me. Love the post, and would love to win the book. i am not a writer, but love to learn about the craft.Thank you for the great giveaway

  18. Hi Debby. Thanks for the warm welcome. I didn't know there were so many connections to Kirksville here. I took ROTC instead of PE my freshman year. Of course that was back in 81-82. That would be too coincidental if that was when your hubby was there.

    Hey Glynna. My folder is called Misc scenes. LOL. Yum. Looking forward to the salsa with my breakfast.

    Morning Marianne. Anthem? Close but nope. Try a little further east in Cave Creek. So no stalking allowed unless you're bringing chocolate! LOL.

  19. Question for those of you who are Pansters, Plotters and Plansters...what kinds of things are you scheduling to occur in your books that will tighten up that flabby middle? Do you already have something in mind when you start, or wait to see what happens when you get there?

  20. Kim, you almost made me want to tackle a 3 mile walk this morning...almost! Instead, I'm waiting for this weekend when our weather's supposed to cool down.

    As for my story - my current WIP is at the very beginning...just starting on the characters and outline. Your post is a great reminder to do the work NOW so I can avoid that sagging middle later!

    Thanks for stopping by.

  21. Kim, I relate on both ends of the sagging middle! :) I'm beginning to get serious about working out regularly, not a discipline I've ever acquired for very long. As I'm working on re-writing my wip, I'm looking for those scenes that need more conflict.

    Loved your tips and how you applied them to both the physical and written sagging middles.

    So glad the food here is cyber food and I can eat as much as I want. :)

  22. The dreaded middle - I can relate to both very well. Am looking for a new gym to join since my lovely ladies only gym folded up.

    My solution to the story's sagging middle - make something huge happen, like a storm, an ex-boyfriend showing up, a car accident - some big disaster really perks things up!

    Love the sound of your latest book!

    sbmason at sympatico dot ca

  23. We ALL know what Mary would do to bolster that sagging middle, don't we? SHOOT SOMEONE!

  24. HI Kim, Waving at my fellow Arizonian and Desert Rose

    Loved the sagging middle ideas. I have to deal with both. LOL Thanks for reminding me.

    Wish I could be at the DR meeting tonight. I saw so many in Anaheim. It is so funny that I see more of my friends in far away places than at home.

    Love the cover on A Father Makes Three.

    Aren't you excited about our Avalon books going digital? I met the Amazon folks in Anaheim and they seem really pumped up and excited.

  25. Yes Glynna, Mary would shoot someone.

    Hmmmmm Maybe that is what I should do.

    No wait, I can't do that. But I can make life more difficult. Is it a sin to enjoy being mean? I mean to my characters.

  26. Great ideas Kim - with sagging middles for our bodies and our books. Cute! :)

    Thanks for the inspiration.

    Jodie Wolfe

  27. What fun, Kim! Although I did NOT need reminding that I am spending entirely too much time in front of my computer and not nearly enough time getting exercise for my "real" sagging middle.

    Actually, my real-body issue has become more of an expanding middle.

    So . . . how can we relate that to a manuscript? Scene padding that doesn't move the story forward? Overextended flashbacks? Bloated dialogue?

  28. Kara... been there, done that.

    And that's almost a magic fix! Great advice, too.

    Hamsters... paranoia... spinning wheels...

    Chocolate. It all comes 'round to chocolate!

  29. Welcome back to Seekerville, Kim!

    Sigh. Your post is right on!

    And applies to every scene as well.

  30. So Kim, I am always curious. How do you handle the writing job and the day job. Any juggling tips?

  31. Thanks for sharing with us today, Kim---enjoyed your analogy of cures for the written AND physical sagging middle, LOL. ~ And I know this won't help anyone's sagging middle, but please enjoy my Georgia Peach Shortcake I brought to share--with real whipped cream. Blessings, Patti Jo :)

  32. OH MY!

    I think you've been spying on me.

    And I try to remember something Julei Hilton Steele said once about a girdle of TENSION. So, I try to make somethign really huge happen in the middle where people usually expect it toward the end. 'Course, have to have something even bigger there... But you know what I mean.

  33. oh, I am so going to have to get your book. I was adopted and found both my birth parents. I always want to see how different authors write about it because the whole finding your birth parents thing goes differently for each adoptee (the difference between me and my older brother and finding our birth mothers is vastly different - he still hasn't found his birth father).

    thanks for your post on sagging middles. it makes me feel less inept. is that a good thing? hmmmm...

  34. Salsa!!!

    Can we salsa dance while indulging? Thereby shedding the middle????

    I do love editing. I think it brings out the best in me, less hodge podge.

    Where is Vince?

    He would scold me and say I'd be less hodge podge if I PLANNED more but the very notion gives me Italian Mama Agita!!!!

    And I'm Irish so that's quite a trick.

    Hey, sweet tea... and unsweetened. And Equal if you want sweet and still no calories.


    I want pie.

    Anyone else want pie???

  35. I'm a Pantser who must plan somewhat so they buy the book, but having said that...

    A person walked onstage when I least expected it two weeks ago. And suddenly I realized why this guy had done what he did...

    the perfect reason.

    Why would any of us tempt fate????

    So seeing this new character gave me multiple scenes to play with. And it was fun and tied things into a nice, neat bow!

  36. Virginia, I love that you do that. I try to break that mold, too... I like to tie up some loose ends as we go along, and then sever others. Sometimes they're reflective, sometimes not.

    To me that's more reality based on what goes on here, with our friends, families, church, community.

    And I like leaving bad guys bad guys most of the time. Because not everyone jumps on board the nice people award winner bandwagon.

  37. Hi Kim,
    So glad you stopped by. I never considered that I could work on my story while exercising. Driving? Yes, but not exercising.
    (I only jot down notes at red lights.)
    I guess if I'm going to suffer through exercise, my characters may as well suffer too.
    Thanks so much!
    Jackie L.

  38. Kim, I think I'll try to lose some excess verbiage in my manuscript along with some excess poundage. Both are hard to do! Funny how all the excess and unnecessary fat always ends up in the middle.

  39. Hey Glynna, Mary could also blow something up. She likes to have explosions too.

  40. Jackie, you are scaring me.

    Try the treadmill laptop instead. Uses very little gas.

  41. You've gotta love Seekerville, THE place to talk about sagging middles - all while they're feeding you!

    Thanks for the post, Kim. Writing feels like that expression about learning. The more you know, the more you know you don't know.

    Always good to learn something new

  42. Ruthy, I had one of those moments last week when everything popped together in a way I never expected.
    Hands down my favorite part of writing.

  43. What a clever post, Kim! You're speaking to me on both levels. Your words encourage me to take a bit more responsibility for making both middles tighter :-)

    Nancy C

  44. So a question for the writers amongst us -- is it easier to keep the sagging middles out of shorter stories?

  45. I think that writing is a lot like knitting. The middle of a sweater or shawl is seriously boring. There are times when the last thing you want to do is knit another row on that shawl. Also has anyone noticed you get ideas for new books in the middle of the old.

  46. Hi Kim,
    Love your blog today. What a fun way of confronting both issues.


    Yes, seriously, why is it your brain comes up with your best plots when you are knee deep in another story????

  48. I'm currently finishing an outline now for a WIP and I'm looking at it and wondering if my characters' goals meet in the sagging middle. I was never much of an outliner until recently.

  49. Wow. Good morning. I leave for a bit and look what happens. Sorry I didn't get back last night but I was exhausted after a full day at work and then the chapter meeting. By the time I got home and cleaned up the cats had left-broken pottery, I literally fell into bed without checking my e-mail.

    Thanks for stopping by everyone and for the continued warm welcome. I'm a bit overwhelmed at the response. I wish I could answer each one individually, but alas, the day job intrudes and i have to get ready soon.

    When I wrote this article, I had no idea sagging middles both physical and in our manuscripts would be such a popular target. Sorry if I made any of you uncomfortable! (not really) If I've helped one person get off the couch and take a walk, or helped them trim unnecessary words or scenes from their books then I've done my job. LOL.

    Thanks again for having me here. I really enjoyed my time. The cyber food was awesome, and the conversations great and stimulating. Until next time. Blessings!

  50. Fun post. Love the analogy of getting our middles in shape to getting our story middles in shape.

    I'd love to have one of those writing treadmills, Tina, or at least I tell myself so. ;-)

  51. Kim, I'm sorry I didn't catch your post yesterday. Thanks so much for joining us! I loved your post. Got such a good laugh. And had some great reminders, too. Thanks for the tips!!

  52. Thanks for the great post Kim!

  53. Thanks so much for this post. It came at just the right time to fix the middle of my WIP.

  54. Thanks so much for your post! Since I am at the middle of my WIP, I really needed it!

  55. Thanks for stopping by Patricia, Missy, Sheila and Kathye. Glad I could be of help. LOL. Have a great day.