How to avoid a saggy middle and other advice for writers

Book Review: “Structuring Your Novel – Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story” and “Structuring Your Novel Workbook” by K. M. Weiland

I couldn’t help smiling when I read the expression “eliminating saggy middles” in K.M. Weiland’s book, because I know exactly the feeling: for me, it’s when I’ve started reading a novel and been sucked in by a great first act, but soon realise I’m sinking into a swamp. After 100 pages of swamp-wading, I start peering at the end of the book or checking the “minutes left” on my Kindle, wondering if the story will ever get exciting again.

If I’m writing, it’s worse. Suddenly my prose is like quicksand, and I’m writing on autopilot. I know a good bit is coming up, but I just have to get through this part. Not only me, but I fear my potential readers, begin to wonder if I should abandon the story altogether.

Weiland’s secret to banishing saggy middles forever is set out in “Structuring Your Novel – Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story” and accompanying Workbook. This is frankly the best book on story structure that I’ve ever read. It’s both analytical and practical, with specific questions and common pitfalls listed at the end of each chapter.

There’s advice on how to create the hook and inciting event, where to place the major plot points, the power of foreshadowing, the effective use of settings, exercises to develop characters, an explanation of pinchpoints and advice on building up to the climax and resolution.

Delving further into structure, there’s analysis of scenes and sequels, the “mighty little pistons [that] power the entirety of your story”. Think of it that way and all those dull paragraphs fall away, transformed into working parts of the story engine. Breaking story down to sentence level, Weiland then explains MRUs – motivation-reaction units. People react to an event in a particular order (it’s true) and by following this order, sentences and paragraphs flow. If part of your book is sounding flat, there is a reason (and a solution) for it!

I used this book to breathe life into a story that has been staring at me for the last year. By applying the overarching structure, I realised that the basic plot points were in the right place (I was proud of that 🙂 ). Then, where the story started to sink or wander, I added appropriate pinchpoints and looked closely at each scene, tying it back to the major story arc. I was able to re-invigorate every character by following the step-by-step questions. I’m still editing, but this book has made the process so much easier. It’s like having a writing coach in the room!

I’ll be referring to this book for a long time, for existing and new projects. I have no hesitation giving it 5 stars and recommending it to any author.

Find the book here and workbook here. Paperback is also available.


2 thoughts on “How to avoid a saggy middle and other advice for writers

    • I found it really useful for me. It was just the right book to pick up at the right time! I’ve always been interested in story structure, but have never found a book that explained it so succinctly and practically. I’ve also just finished an excellent book called “Gotta Read It – Five Simple Steps to Writing a Fiction Pitch that sells”. It explains how to structure a book blurb by following five principles! (I’ve always loved the idea of “achieve this in X easy steps”!)

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