How do you overcome a Sagging Middle in your novel? Throw Grampa Down the Stairs

by Dan Walsh, @DanWalshAuthor

What in the world am I talking about here? Throw Grampa down the stairs? Let me assure you right off, although both my grandfathers passed away years ago (my wife’s grandfathers as well), I would have never done anything to hurt them.

That is, in real life. But in my books? I actually did this very thing (with my wife’s full approval).

My post today, believe it or not, is actually about plotting, albeit a very specific aspect of plotting. Most fiction experts agree (I’m not one, but I’ve read their books), conflict and tension are at the core of great fiction writing. The best stories include lots of both.

One of my favorite writing quotes is (though I don’t know who to credit): “The secret to great fiction writing is to create characters readers care about, then do terrible things to them.” Speaking of terrible things, this sounds like a terrible thing to do as a writer. But it’s not. It’s essential to create a great story and, if you think about it, most of the great movies you’ve watched and books you’ve read have followed this advice.

It came to my rescue as I wrote my 2nd novel back in 2009, and it came to my rescue again this week, as I’m writing Novel #19.

One of the common problems fiction writers face is the “danger of the sagging middle.” That’s where you have a great beginning all worked out and maybe even a great climactic ending. But as you get well into the story, it dawns on you that the middle hundred pages are kinda flat. You didn’t plan on it, didn’t see it coming but, now that you’re here, you realize the story is starting to sag.

I’ve stopped reading several novels that began with great promise because of this sagging middle, so I’m very sensitive to this issue as a writer. I don’t want my readers to do the same thing with my books.

As I said, I faced this dilemma while writing my second novel, The Homecoming. I was at the 1/3 point, could see the finish line off in the distance. But the chapters in that middle-third were starting to sound and feel like “blah-blah-blah.” Even to me (definitely to my wife). The story involved a young boy who’d lost his mother, an aging grandfather who just met his grandson a few months ago, and the boy’s father, a war hero. The father and grandfather had just reconciled after years apart at the end of Book 1.

When I realized the middle chapters were getting stale, I talked to my wife and asked for her help. The two of us began to brainstorm some plot possibilities. Aided by the above advice (and since I’d already created characters readers cared about), I knew it was time to do some “terrible things to them.” The idea popped into my head, and I said it out loud. “I know, we could throw Grampa down the stairs.”

My wife’s answer? “That’s perfect. That’ll do it.”

So, that’s what I did. I arranged for Grampa to fall down the stairs. It wasn’t a fatal fall (though he did need to be hospitalized). And this event became the first domino to a host of other significant (and tense) plot developments that safely took me all the way through the previously sagging middle-third.

As I said, I’m writing my 19th novel now, called Saving Parker (Parker is a dog). And I’m just about at the same point. The beginning’s been going great. And I’ve already worked out a great ending. But I’m looking at the chapters up ahead, and all I see are the makings of a seriously sagging middle.

So, we had another what we now affectionately call a “Throw Grampa Down the Stairs” conversation and came up with a similar perfect solution to the problem. I won’t tell you what it is, because the book isn’t out yet (release date is Nov 1st). But I’m all energized again about writing the book again, and I believe it will have the same punch as the first 2 books in the series (Rescuing Finley and Finding Riley).

So…have you ever faced this dilemma? How have you overcome your sagging middle (I’m talking about your novel, not your abdomen)? Tell us your story.

TWEETABLES

Throw Grampa Down the Stairs by Dan Walsh (Click to Tweet)

How do you overcome a Sagging Middle in your novel?~ Dan Walsh (Click to Tweet)

Create characters readers care about and then do terrible things to them.~ Dan Walsh (Click to Tweet)

Unintended Consequences:
Jack and Rachel leave Culpepper for their long-awaited honeymoon trip, a driving tour through New England. On day three, they stop at a little bayside town in Cape Cod to visit Jack’s grandmother. After he gets called away to handle an emergency, Rachel stays and listens as Jack’s grandmother shares a remarkable story about how she and Jack’s grandfather met in the early days of World War 2. It’s a story filled with danger, decades-old family secrets, daring rescues and romance. Jack is named after his grandfather, and this story set the course and direction for Jack’s life to the present day. After hearing it, Rachel is amazed that anyone survived.

Dan Walsh is the bestselling author of 17 novels including The Unfinished Gift, The Discovery and When Night Comes. He has won 3 Carol Awards (finalist 6 times), 3 Selah Awards and 3 of his books have been finalists for RT Review’s Inspirational Book of the Year. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and Word Weavers International, Dan writes fulltime in the Daytona Beach area. He and his wife Cindi have been married 40 years. You can find out more about his books or follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads or Pinterest from his website at http://www.danwalshbooks.com.

Dealing With Profanity in Christian Fiction

By Dan Walsh, @DanWalshAuthor

People swear a lot these days.

They swear when they’re angry, and even when they’re not. In recent years, it’s not uncommon to hear the F-word, for example, tossed around in casual conversation as almost the adjective-of-choice for everything and anything people are talking about.

The prevalence of profanity is just a sad fact of life. Well, here’s another one. There’s no swearing allowed in Christian Fiction. Period. None. Nada. I learned this rule very early on after signing with Revell, the primary publisher of my traditional fiction novels.
I was told there’s something of an “unwritten contract” between CBA publishers and Christian fiction readers. Regardless of the widespread use of profanity in secular books and movies, our readers expect to find a safe harbor when they open a Christian fiction novel, a “clean read.”

As it turned out, this wasn’t a hard rule for me to swallow. I was a pastor, had been for over twenty years. Swearing and profanity wasn’t a part of my life (even when I got angry). But as I continued to write novel after novel, I realized the unique challenge this rule presented. All my novels had bad guys who did bad things and SAID bad things (at least they would in real life situations). The challenge was: how do I create sufficient tension and conflict in the bad guy scenes so they came off as credible and realistic?

What I discovered was, it can be done. It takes more work, more thought, and more creativity (IMO), than simply letting my bad guys swear as much as they please. I have to figure out how to inject tension and emotion into the scenes themselves, as they unfold, since I can’t let the anger come out through the dialog.

To me, the challenge is similar to the early scenes in the hit movie, Jaws. I watched a show where Steven Spielberg explained that his plan was to have the big monster shark show up almost at the beginning of the movie, but they couldn’t get the prop to work. So, he had to figure out how to create the tension and fear he needed during the first 2/3 of the film without the shark. To his delight and surprise, NOT having the shark actually shown in those scenes worked out better. People were totally terrified anyway (I can hear the tense, scary music in my head right now).

I still write this way (no swearing) in my indie novels, even though “technically” I no longer have CBA publishers and editors looking over my shoulder. Here’s an example from my latest book, Unintended Consequences. Keep in mind as you read, the whole book is not like this scene. This is a moment where my hero and his friend, Joe, are trying to rescue some French people who’ve been captured by Nazis, and are now being tortured. They are sneaking through the basement of a Nazi headquarters.

Jack was so glad they hadn’t hurt Renee, but he didn’t have the heart to tell her what they had done to her brother, Philippe. He was locked in the room next to hers. Clearly, he had been severely beaten. Bruises all over his face, his lips split. One eye swollen shut. Jack knew he was still alive. He had moved slightly when the little metal door slid over, but he didn’t even look up.

“You ready to do this?” Joe said, his pistol held at the ready.

“Let’s end this,” Jack said, referring to the horror going on through the open door.

The sound of a whip striking someone’s back. A shrieking scream. A man shouted some vicious-sounding French things with a German accent. Another crack of the whip. Another scream.

Joe walked through the doorway first, his pistol leveled in front of him. Jack was right behind. “Hey Fritz,” Joe yelled.

There were two Germans in the room, an officer seated in the corner like an observer and a massive soldier with rolled up sleeves, holding a whip. The Frenchman was facing the wall tied to a post, his back a bleeding mess. The Germans turned to look at the intruders.

“Englanders!” The officer screamed as he stood.

“No, Americans,” Jack yelled and shot the man between the eyes as he reached for his sidearm.

The big German was unarmed except for the whip, which he raised toward Jack and Joe. His face filled with hatred.

“Here you go,” Joe said and shot the man twice in the knees. The man screamed in pain and dropped the weapon as he fell to the ground grabbing his legs.

“How many bullets I got in this thing?” Joe asked Jack.

“Five bullets a clip.”

“Okay Fritz, here’s two more.” Joe shot him in both shoulders. The bullets sent the man flying backwards against the wall. “How’s that feel?” Joe walked right up to him. “Hurts, doesn’t it? You shouldn’t hurt people, Fritz. Don’t you know the golden rule? I only wish I had more time so you could feel some more of the pain you dish out on others. But we gotta go.” He raised the gun and shot the German between the eyes.

And see? Plenty of tension and conflict, but no swearing. Let’s get a discussion going. Share with us how you have handled this issue in your novels.

TWEETABLES


Dealing With Profanity in Christian Fiction by Dan Walsh (Click to Tweet)

What does leaving profanity out have in common with the blockbuster movie Jaws?~ Dan Walsh (Click to Tweet)

Unintended Consequences:
Jack and Rachel leave Culpepper for their long-awaited honeymoon trip, a driving tour through New England. On day three, they stop at a little bayside town in Cape Cod to visit Jack’s grandmother. After he gets called away to handle an emergency, Rachel stays and listens as Jack’s grandmother shares a remarkable story about how she and Jack’s grandfather met in the early days of World War 2. It’s a story filled with danger, decades-old family secrets, daring rescues and romance. Jack is named after his grandfather, and this story set the course and direction for Jack’s life to the present day. After hearing it, Rachel is amazed that anyone survived.

Dan Walsh is the bestselling author of 17 novels including The Unfinished Gift, The Discovery and When Night Comes. He has won 3 Carol Awards (finalist 6 times), 3 Selah Awards and 3 of his books have been finalists for RT Review’s Inspirational Book of the Year. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and Word Weavers International, Dan writes fulltime in the Daytona Beach area. He and his wife Cindi have been married 40 years. You can find out more about his books or follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads or Pinterest from his website at http://www.danwalshbooks.com.

When Going Green Isn’t a Good Thing

by Dan Walsh, @DanWalshAuthor

In recent years, the idea of “Going Green” has become a pretty popular and positive thing in the US. I say “recent years” because I can easily recall a time (in my youth) when the thought of focusing on the quality of our environment was no big deal. No one talked about it. The topic was rarely in the news. No one ever recycled anything or cared about “sustainability” (they wouldn’t even understand such terms if they heard them).
There was, at least, common agreement that tall factory smokestacks belching out thick clouds of black smoke was probably a bad thing. But that’s as far as our environmentalism went. No one ever thought about Going Green as a good thing.

Today, I want to talk about a more traditional form of Going Green. That is, the greenness of Envy. Why do we associate the color Green with Envy and Jealousy? Some say it goes back to the time of Shakespeare (Othello, Act III, Scene 3: “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; it is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on“).

A few days ago, I was reading some comments on a Facebook writer’s group when someone posted about their struggle with Envy. Specifically, the envy of other writers’ success. She was, in a way “fessing up” to something she wanted to be free from. Very quickly, a large number of other writers jumped in, identifying with her and admitting to ways they struggled with the same thing. At some point, one of the contributors noticed only women were sharing, so she tagged me and other male authors she knew, asking us to weigh in.

I read all the posts, then struggled about whether to respond. The reason? For many, their primary struggle with envy had to do with their lack of book sales compared to all the work they put into the effort. Many expressed a strong desire to have at least enough success (i.e. book sales) so they could at least earn a “livable income” from their writing alone.

See — as I shared in my Novel Rocket column last month (CLICK HERE to read I Make Up Stuff For a Living) — I’ve had the good fortune and a sufficient measure of success to write full time for the last 7 years. I was concerned that if I shared my situation on this FB group, rather than encourage these writers, I would simply provide a fresh temptation to become envious again (by being envious of me).

I had a second big concern with responding to this FB post. That is, even with my measure of success, I can still struggle with Envy. I imagined most of the writers who had just shared their envy-struggles would have a hard time imagining why I—after all the success I’ve had—would still struggle with it, too.

But I do. I don’t want to. But sometimes I still do.

So, I decided to jump in and share my struggle, such as it is. Here’s what I said:

I actually still get envious of other authors. Which authors? Those who sell mega-books, or those whose books have been turned into movies (which then resulted in them selling mega-more books). I’ve had one of my better novels optioned 3 times by 3 different production companies (something always happens to short-circuit the process). I keep wondering, when will one of my books finally break away, so that I don’t have to work so hard at making this livable income? I’d like to drop down to writing 1 book a year (and not have to market so much). I’d like to be able to travel and research fascinating locations in person (vs going there on Google Earth). I’d like the freedom, just once, to work on a book that I’d want to write, just because it interests me and stirs my imagination, without worrying once about its sales’ potential. I fantasize that THIS is the book that will finally break away for me, but it can’t happen, because I can’t write it, because I’m stuck on this production treadmill, writing books that will help me keep writing books that will keep earning me this livable income.

So you see? It never ends. What’s that Proverb? “The leech has 2 daughters: Give, Give.”

I think, because of Adam’s fall, we are all hard-wired and prone to Envy. If we ever get that thing we’ve longed to have for so long, we soon find ourselves longing for the next thing. And social media—for all its benefits—easily serves up fresh bouts of envy, as we read about one author after another experiencing levels of success that have still eluded us.

Why God? Why them, and why not me?

Why? Well, for starters…that’s the wrong question to ask. It springs from a heart that’s looking in the wrong direction altogether. Contentment never springs from a heart that’s comparing its lot with others. I’ve heard it said, contentment comes not from getting what you want, but wanting what you have. When I focus on that, I find spreading out before me a growing list of things to be thankful for. As I begin to thank God for those things, the green-eyed monster quickly flees the scene.

I’ll start off with how thankful I am about the launch of my newest book (my 18th overall, my 5th as an indie, and 3rd in my Jack Turner Suspense series). It’s called Unintended Consequences. Sales are going extremely well and the early reviews have been spectacular.

So…why don’t you jump in here? Share some of your struggles with Writer-Envy and, perhaps, follow up with an equal number of things you are grateful for.

TWEETABLES

Unintended Consequences:
Jack and Rachel leave Culpepper for their long-awaited honeymoon trip, a driving tour through New England. On day three, they stop at a little bayside town in Cape Cod to visit Jack’s grandmother. After he gets called away to handle an emergency, Rachel stays and listens as Jack’s grandmother shares a remarkable story about how she and Jack’s grandfather met in the early days of World War 2. It’s a story filled with danger, decades-old family secrets, daring rescues and romance. Jack is named after his grandfather, and this story set the course and direction for Jack’s life to the present day. After hearing it, Rachel is amazed that anyone survived.

Dan Walsh is the bestselling author of 17 novels including The Unfinished Gift, The Discovery and When Night Comes. He has won 3 Carol Awards (finalist 6 times), 3 Selah Awards and 3 of his books have been finalists for RT Review’s Inspirational Book of the Year. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and Word Weavers International, Dan writes fulltime in the Daytona Beach area. He and his wife Cindi have been married 40 years. You can find out more about his books or follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads or Pinterest from his website at http://www.danwalshbooks.com.

Title Photo Copyright: rtimages / 123RF Stock Photo

I Make Stuff Up for a Living

By Dan Walsh

I should start off my post today (in an effort at full disclosure) by saying my inspiration came from reading my friend Rachel Hauck’s Novel Rocket blog post a couple of weeks ago on April 19th, called, It All Boils down to This… I’m a Writer.

I’ve been writing novels full-time now since 2010, part-time 2 years before that. I’m just about to release Novel #18 on May 15th. I’m not sure, but I think Rachel’s been writing quite a bit longer than me and has more novels published. Still, as I read her blog, I was nodding constantly in agreement.
This is an odd thing that we do, writing novels.

The number who have the good fortune to do this for a living is even a much smaller group (I’ve read it’s only about 5% of published authors). So that makes what I do for a living even more odd.

Other than the author friends I’ve met online, at writers’ conferences and at other various writing events, I don’t know anyone else who does what I do for a living. No one in my church. No one in my family. And I think you could count on one hand the number of people who do this for a living in my town (the greater Daytona Beach area). Now, there may be a handful more who write for a living in my town, but not people who write novels.

Lately, when people ask, “So, what do you do for living?” (this question gets asked in small talk on occasion), I’ve started telling people, “I make stuff up for a living.”

You can imagine the look on their faces. But really, that’s what I do. At least 5 days a week. And I’ve been making stuff up every day, full-time, for the last 7 years. And Lord willing, I intend to keep right on making stuff up for a living for many years to come.

When you stop and think about it, it’s the craziest thing. Imagine people paying you for something like this. And thankfully, paying enough so that for the last 7 years I can do this as my primary “work.” See, even that, I felt the need to put the word work in quotation marks.

Why? Making stuff up hardly feels like work. The crew of guys who sawed down and hauled away the 4 dead trees on my property this week…those gentlemen worked. And what did I do while they were out there doing this work? I sat inside, in the air conditioning, making stuff up.

Perhaps I should feel guilty. Perhaps, on some level, I do.

But I have no plans of letting such latent guilt ruin this good thing I’ve got going on. I’m having way too much fun. I love writing novels. I love coming up with stories that move me, and intrigue me, and provoke me to go looking deeply into things. Deeply enough, that it almost seems like I’m not really making stuff up, but I’ve actually been there myself and lived through everything my characters are experiencing as the story unfolds.

But I’m not. At any moment, I can hit the pause button, step out from some intense scene I’m writing, pet my dog on the head, go out into the kitchen and make myself an ice coffee. Such a thing is only possible to those who make stuff up for a living.

Like me. I write novels. That’s what I do.

Thank you, Rachel, for helping me shed some of this latent guilt for having such a crazy job. We’ve got nothing to be sorry for, right? Making up stories and writing them down for other people to enjoy (and, hopefully, be inspired by) has been going on for ages.

Maybe we should start a support group. Or, since we live so far apart, a blog on the internet. Where other writers who make stuff up all day can come and share their experiences with each other and with other sojourners considering a similar path.

We could call it something like…Novel Rocket.

Well, my time’s up. What better way to end this than with a shameless plug? I’m about to release (as I said) Novel #18 in a couple of weeks. It’s called, Unintended Consequences. Click on THIS LINK to get a preview.

And yes, when you’re reading it, everything will feel like it’s all true. Like it really happened. But don’t be fooled…I made the whole thing up.

TWEETABLES
Don’t be fooled…I made the whole thing up.~ Dan Walsh (Click to Tweet)

Dan Walsh is the bestselling author of 17 novels, including The Unfinished Gift, The Reunion and When Night Comes. He has won 3 Carol Awards (finalist 6 times) and 3 Selah Awards. Three of his books were finalists for Inspirational Book of the Year (RT Book Reviews). Dan is a member of ACFW and Word Weavers. He lives with his wife, Cindi, in the Daytona Beach area where they love to take walks and spend time with their grandkids. Click here to connect with Dan or check out his books.