Kathleen Bolton and Therese Walsh of Writer Unboxed make a point that fiction writers can learn from other medias of art and entertainment. I love watching figure skating, and think a well-choreographed ice dance or pairs’ routine has many parallels to a romance novel.

Sadly, in a romance I have read recently, it was as if the hero and heroine met at center ice, then skated off to opposite ends of the rink where they noodled around a bit before rejoining for a kiss at the end. In another it seemed the couple started at opposite ends and spent the entire routine taking baby steps toward one another.

It’s a syndrome writers sometimes call the Sagging Middle. No, it’s not what happens when the writer consumes too many Pepperidge Farm Mint Milanos under deadline pressure. It’s when the writer has problems coming up with a conflict that forces the couple together and makes them work for that happily-ever-after.

If we think about the hero and heroine as ice dancers, though, we’d remember:

  • It’s important for them to be together much of the time.
  • Sometimes they have to skate in perfect unison; otherwise we might not be able to imagine them as a happy married couple, twenty years from now, still linking arms and moving in rhythm.
  • But variety is necessary. When they’re together, their movements can be opposed. When they’re apart, they still relate to one another.
  • And you need challenges. Things that push your characters to their limits even if you (and the reader) are afraid they might crash. The possibility of a crash is what makes it more exciting.

Right now I’m trying to figure out what will happen in the middle of my work-in-progress. In the synopsis, this part basically reads, “interesting things will happen here, trust me”.

Fellow writers, how do you attack the Sagging Middle?

As readers, what sorts of conflicts keep you turning the pages?

LADY DEARING’S MASQUERADE, RT Reviewers’ Choice Award nominee