NaNoWriMo: Synopsis and the Sagging Middle

NaNoWriMo: Synopsis and the Sagging Middle

What to do when you hit the wall

by Jamie K. Schmidt
November 17, 2020

Hello NaNoWriMo-ers! You are on the way. You’ve past the halfway mark of the month of November and are heading down the home stretch. How’s that for scary? (Or exciting!) By the end of today, you should have 28,339 words done on your novel. In fact, if you can push it to 30,000 words today, you are in great shape.

But maybe you’re not in such great shape. That’s okay. You still have plenty of time to get this down. Not meeting the daily word count or falling behind can be frustrating. What I don’t want anyone to do at this stage is throw up your hands in defeat. Keep your nose to the grindstone and double up on your efforts to put words on the page. You might have to do some sacrificing by writing during lunch or through a favorite television show. You might have to lock yourself in the garage or in your car to get your daily words in, but you can do it. Do what it takes to get the words in.

Maybe you’ve been writing hard for seventeen days at a pace you may not be comfortable with yet. It’s possible that even with the four questions we talked about last week, you might have hit a wall or maybe written yourself into a corner where you need to figure out how to get to The End.

You also might be experiencing what’s called the “saggy middle” syndrome, which does not––unfortunately—involve eating too much discounted Halloween candy. The key to getting out of the sagging middle is to put more “fun and games” into the novel. This means more scenes where we can see the cause and effect of the characters’ actions while they’re going about their everyday life.

Spend some time writing scenes between the characters where they do something unexpected. Have them go to a baseball game or explore a cave or steal a spaceship—anything within your genre rules goes. Bonus points if you make your characters uncomfortable while doing it! Do you have someone who is afraid of public speaking? Force them to make an important speech. Are they afraid of motorcycles? Make them get on the back of one. In each situation, describe how that makes the character feel and how they are changed by the experience. These scenes may not make it into the final edit of your book, or even after your first edit pass in January. But for right now, they’re giving you the word count you need to finish NaNoWriMo while allowing you to explore your world and your characters.

Other things you can do to prop up the sagging middle is to write out of order. Write the “good parts” to keep you motivated. The most important thing is, though, to keep writing. You can’t stop now. You’re almost done!

Have you found that even with all your pre-planning and answering the four questions from last week that you’ve hit a wall? Do you still not know what’s going to happen next? Well don’t panic. If that happens, take a break and come back to the scene later. If you haven’t received a brainstorm by the next writing session, take out a sheet of paper or open up a new document on your computer and write down:

  I.    Opening Hook “Where does it start?”
 II.    First conflict “What happens next?”
III.    Up the stakes “How can I make it worse?”
IV.    Second conflict “What happens next?”
 V.    Make it worse “Turn up the heat!”
VI.    Black Moment / All is lost “Where does it fall apart?”
VII.   Resolution – HEA “What have they learned? / How does it end?”

These are the beats that make up your story’s rhythm. You may have more conflict or less, depending on the book. All together, these sections will become the skeleton of your synopsis, which will be handy once the novel is finished and edited because most agents or editors want to see a synopsis with the novel submission.

Expand on these seven sections using a couple of sentences. Then tack it up by your work station so you know what comes next. If you manage to finish the book and are still well below the 50,000-word mark, there are a few things you can do.

1.    Congratulations, you’ve written a novella. Start another one and see if you can have two completed works by the end of NaNoWriMo.
2.    Add more dialog, more description of setting, more scenes.
3.    Add a subplot with minor characters that furthers the main story arc along.
4.    Ask for help.

Writing is a solitary business, but the perk about NaNoWriMo is that you are part of a larger group of writers that are in the same exact boat that you are in. Because of COVID-19 all of the meet-ups are now virtual, but contact your local municipal liaison for a Discord or Zoom chat and see if talking it out with other members of your NaNoWriMo squad can help you get past the saggy middle and provide new motivation to finish the book.

Good luck and good writing!

Related Links
•    https://nanowrimo.org - Feel free to add me as a buddy: Jamie_Schmidt
•    Jami Gold’s Beat Sheets
•    NaNoWriMo Meetups

USA Today bestselling author, Jamie K. Schmidt, writes erotic contemporary love stories and paranormal romances.  Her steamy, romantic comedy, Life’s a Beach, reached #65 on USA Today, #2 on Barnes & Noble and #9 on Amazon and iBooks.  Her Club Inferno series from Random House’s Loveswept line has hit both the Amazon and Barnes & Noble top one hundred lists. The first book in the series, Heat, put her on the USA Today bestseller list for the first time, and is a #1 Amazon bestseller.  Her book Stud was a 2018 Romance Writers of America Rita® Finalist in Erotica. Her dragon paranormal romance series has been called “fun and quirky” and “endearing.” Partnered with New York Times bestselling author and actress, Jenna Jameson, Jamie’s hardcover debut, SPICE, continues Jenna’s FATE trilogy.

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