Friday, October 4, 2013


We get an idea for a story.

Perhaps, we know something about the main character and what goes wrong in their lives.

            (Obviously, something goes wrong, or there wouldn’t be a story)

Maybe, we can imagine a hint of how that character’s problem is solved. Perhaps not.


A character with a problem needing resolution might give us a short story, but a full-length novel or even a novella, that doesn’t make. At some point we have to fill 200, 300, 400 pages of what writers like to call sagging middle.


This post won't work for some. True pantsers hate plotting in any form, but for those who need some direction, here’s my solution, my suggestion, my system.


On a blank sheet of paper, draw this silly looking diagram that I fondly call my amoeba.

Thee "amoeba" for my one published novel, "Victoria and the Ghost."

Write the working title at the top, the main character’s name to the top left along with what it is that they want. Then, I write on the top right the antagonist’s name and what they want. In a romance, this would be the spot for the hero’s name. On my drawing, I could’ve put the ghost, or any one of Victoria’s friends. I chose her dad because he’s who Victoria blames for all her trouble. At the middle top, write why the main character can’t have what they want. What’s stopping them?


At the #1 tip of the amoeba, write where the story starts, the "inciting incident," as some call it. This may be all we have when we begin, but we can add as we write and as we decide what happens next, or we can write suggestions at each tip of the amoeba and aim for that. Either can work. It depends on how we prefer to plot. We all plot at some point, or we can’t write a book.


Tips for Picking Up Sagging Middles

  1. Give the protagonist a new complication to reaching her goal

2,    Give the protagonist an extra problem to solve separate from the main goal

  1. Give a secondary character a problem to solve.
     4. Make a list of things that could thwart the protagonist from getting their goal. Usually the items
        at the bottom of your list will be most interesting. We start with obvious problems.
     5. Ask the question; what would my main character never do? Then, have him/her do it. This
        could start a whole new plot twist.

A quote that points us in the right direction when trying to come up with new plot twists comes from Nancy Kress  in her book Beginnings, Middles, & Ends.


       “The forces developed in the middle must emerge naturally out of the characters and situations introduced at the beginning.”


This comes back to what your main character wants, and why he/she can’t have it.


As I add plot twists to the swerves of my amoeba design, I realize something that helps me. While I’m writing my novel, and I reach plot twist number 3, I’m halfway around the amoeba which means halfway through the book. This is a guide. If I’ve reached this point and my word count is 20K, but I’m writing a novel of 60K, I’ve got a problem. This clues me to the fact that I need to develop plot twist #2 more, or I’ve added plot twist #3 too quickly.


I hope my simple suggested way of plotting helps.

Let me know if you have other ideas on how to help sagging middles or think up new plot twists. I’d love to hear from you. I always need help.


  1. I need to sit down and think this over. I've stalled my writing trying to figure out what happens next. Thanks for the post.

  2. You're sure welcome, Debra. Hope it helps. I can't tell you the # of times, I've gotten to the mid point & then realized, I'm not 1/2 thru in word count. Something has to change. It also helps spur complications. Good luck.

  3. Clever plotting planning mode. Thanks for sharing your Amoeba with us.

  4. You're sure welcome, Joan. Hope it helps.

  5. Janet,
    Thank you very much! Your plotting template even looks fun!

  6. Thank you, Linda. I'm not an artist. That's for sure, but hey, it works for me. I'm a simple kind of gal.

  7. Good advice, Janet. Sometimes those middles are difficult. Stir up more trouble for the characters. I like it. :)

    1. It's a long way from start to finish, Beverly. That's for sure. We're mean to our characters, aren't we?

  8. Nice post and your suggestions for dealing with the sagging middle will help many writers.

    1. Thank you, James. I sure hope it helps. It's not fancy, but it does help me.

  9. Janet, great tips for plotting and the sagging middle. And, interesting diagram layout.

  10. Thank you, Karen. Interesting. That's an interesting word. Ha!

  11. I love this example of what I refer to as a "visual outline." I think the majority of people are visual learners, so a visual outline should be easier for most writers to follow in writing their story.

    1. Thank you. This helps me see where I'm going & actually sparks ideas.