The Dreaded Middle

I’m working on a short story that I’m hoping to submit to a contest early next week. The last two days, I found I wasn’t hitting my word count goal. I sat at my desk and had the draft open, but I seemed to delete almost as much as I typed.

In reading it over again yesterday, I figured out why I’m struggling with this story. I’m writing the dreaded middle.

I’ve read and heard more than a few writers talk about this. The first half of a project hums along. You’re introducing the characters, getting them into contact with one another, and setting the stage for the coming catastrophe.

The ending often comes together fairly quickly too. You know what the outcome of the story will be and roughly how the characters will get to that resolution. You’re tying up loose ends, punishing the villains, and rewarding the heroes (or vice versa, depending on your story’s needs).

But the middle. Good grief, the dreaded middle. It sags and bags in all the wrong places. It’s a shapeless mass of words, a formless blob that spills across the page and resists all attempts to beat it into submission. It’s like bread dough turned rogue, spilling over the sides of the pan. Think Lucille Ball trying to keep up with a conveyor belt of chocolate. The middle of the story is an unholy mess that writers must somehow tame.

The middle of this short story is where my characters will have a conflict. It’s also where they’ll have a heart-to-heart and clear the air. And writing all of that, along with the necessary connecting scenes so their feud and its resolution make sense, is just making me nuts.

Now that I recognize where I am in this story and why the writing isn’t flowing as well as I’d like, I know I can get through it. I’ve worked through saggy middles before. I’ll work through many, many more in the future.

I just wish each saggy middle didn’t creep up on me unexpectedly. After all this time, I should recognize the road signs and realize where I am.

Are any of my fellow writers struggling with saggy middles right now? What are your tips for getting through them?

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