Friday, August 31, 2012

Help! My middle's sagging...

With every new plot idea, I struggle with 'what happens next?' In other words, how to correct the dreaded 'sagging middle.'

For help understanding this, I turned to the Master of Suspense, Dean Koontz, who has an uncanny skill for creating page-turning bestsellers.

For instance, in his book, RELENTLESS, Mr. Koontz uses several distinct tools to keep us 'hooked' throughout the story:
  • Putting loved ones in danger.
  • Shocking revelations.
  • Introducing characters or plot twists.
  • Foreshadowing.
After the initial triple-peak jolt, there are four separate 'spikes' in tension before the penultimate climax. (Geek alert: Yes, I made a chart.)

With few exceptions, each chapter begins at a marginally diminished 'thrill score' and then builds, with the baseline gradually rising throughout the book. At the end of each chapter Mr. Koontz employs one of his tools to raise tension. Chapters get short, things speed up, and we have no choice but to turn the page.

The overall story arc goes something like this:
  • Peaks 1-3: Trouble's brewing.
  • Peak 4: The devil breaks loose.
  • Peak 5: (Smaller triple spike. We can't catch our breath.) We're losing, winning, losing.
  • Peak 6: We've lost.
  • Peak 7: No! We're going to make it.
  • Peak 8: We showed them, didn't we? Yay good guys!
Again, a general trend is for early spikes to be high/shorter duration and for middle spikes to have longer duration made up of several mini-spikes. The final climax is...breathtaking.

While I dislike the idea of plot formulas, I want my stories to be a thrilling experience for the reader. In my latest project, I've already noticed how using Mr. Koontz' strategy has sharpened the tension.

Someday I'll have to thank him for helping me with my sagging middle.

Cheers...and happy writing!


1 comment:

  1. "Someday I'll have to thank him for helping me with my sagging middle."

    LOL, T. Imagining this made me laugh. I can see this! (Especially given that your own middle is so far from sagging!)


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