Avoid A Saggy Middle

opening-storyNot only bodies sag in middle age! Stories can easily end up with a saggy middle. It’s common for writers, however experienced, to find the story fizzling out.

Of course you need highs and lows. What you don’t need is for the momentum to drop. That spells instant reader turn-off, and you’ve lost him.

Writers often start off with a great idea, bang into the story, take us through the action, and then don’t know where to go from there. It’s not just lack of ideas, though that can happen too. It’s more the problem of knowing how to shift from one plot point to the next.

Children are prone to this problem, and you can help them overcome it with a simple craft trick. Action begets action begets action. Each action point ought to suggest the next. A story is a series of consequences – one thing leads to another.

But what we don’t do is mess around in the interim between action scenes.

The key is to time jump. Never try to cross time by taking the reader through boring days with nothing happening. Leap across time and bang straight into the next action scene.

Every scene doesn’t have to consist of high drama. It does have to move the story along. Your hero needs to be progressing towards his goal, or being prevented from making it. We are not interested in the days in between where he is getting over the first problem and thinking up his next move.

So how do you let the reader know what happened in between? That’s where your flashback moments come in. A flashback can run from a few sentences to a whole scene. You use it to tell us something we need to know, either about what happened in the past before the story starts, or what happened between scenes.

Let’s take an example:
In the opening scenes, Jack located Harry but was attacked by Harry’s henchman and had to take evasive action. There was a cat-and-mouse chase in a warehouse, a pitched battle in the dark and Jack managed to escape with his life. Harry disappears.
Our next big scene takes place a few days later, when Jack, again hunting for Harry (prompted by his disappearance), runs into an ex-girlfriend who left Jack for Harry, but is now trying to escape from his jealous rages.

In between these two scenes, Jack got himself patched up in the hospital and dug around for information on where Harry might be now. But we don’t want to waste our time following him through this scenario. It won’t hold attention because it isn’t moving Jack towards his goal.

Don’t write those scenes. Instead, during the scene with the girl, he can tell her where he thinks Harry now is, and how he got that information. He can also have her notice his injuries. A brief flashback in his head would be enough to tell us that he got patched up. Like this:

“He recalled the doc’s pungent comments on seeing the mess of his face. ‘You walked into a wall? Looks to me like the wall walked into you, Mr Dillon, complete with sprouted fists.’”

Any time you find the story dragging a big, look for the next action scene and time jump into that. You will avoid the curse of saggy middles.

Guest Blog by Elizabeth Bailey

Coming from professional theatre, Elizabeth Bailey taught drama for many years alongside her writing career. Multi-published, she now writes full time, both her own novels and ghostwriting, as well as critiquing for other writers. Find out more at www.elizabethbailey.co.uk

The Joy Of Spring

botticelli-springThe Joy of Spring!

Botticelli Primavera (Spring) 1482

Spring, the sweet spring, is the year’s pleasant king, Then blooms each thing, then maids dance in a ring, Cold doth not sting, the pretty birds do sing: Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to-witta-woo!

Thomas Nashe 1567-1601

In the last few days I have seen my daffodils bursting into bloom, my resident pigeons are gathering sticks for their nest, the sun seems determined to shine, despite the cold wind – Spring has definitely sprung! And with it comes that excitement that has inspired poets, painters and musicians from time immemorial. Continue reading

Keeping Your Temper

angerAs a father of three and a teacher to boot I am well aware of how trying children, of any age, can be. Children are also aware of which buttons to push to get a reaction from adults. We are not saints and we have all lost our temper from time to time with our own kids or in the classroom. If you think back to any of those times, how did you feel afterwards? I know that personally I have regretted every single occasion, few that they may be, that I allowed my temper to get the better of me.

Analytically we can say that the impulse of anger is towards trying to get a child, in this case, to stop doing something. But in reality the moment when you lose your temper is the moment that you have lost. Fear may overtake the child at the time but you have actually lost control of the situation and any advantage that you had as an adult. Continue reading

Time To Move On

happy-learningSuddenly your child seems to be playing around instead of concentrating on his homework task. He makes jokes, does silly things and generally seems to lack concentration. I had an instance of this last week with one of my grandchildren. He had been shooting ahead with his 8 -9 years Verbal Reasoning, completing the tasks at speed, and here he was being silly. Why?

After checking how much sugar he had had, my first instinct would be to search for something he didn’t understand. That is always the first port of call. He might have either a blank because of an unknown word or be confused by something or the work might be suddenly much more difficult. This does happen and should always be checked as a starting point. However, he was still answering easily and correctly, despite all the shenanigans. We had two more papers to go in the book and I realized it had all become too easy. Time to move on! I asked him if he’d like to move onto the next level and miss out the last tests and his enthusiasm left me in no doubt. He was really ready to go onwards and upwards! Continue reading


story-openingWhen attracted by the title and cover of a book, what’s the first thing you do? You pick it up and open it. Typically, you start to read the first page. If you are grabbed by the first paragraph, you are halfway to making the decision to read it.

That means the opening of a story is the most important part. It needs a hook to draw the reader in.

What’s a hook? It’s the “what if?” of literature. The opening raises a question, and the reader wants it answered. They want to know what’s going to happen.

Consider this for an opener. Continue reading

Music Hall Traditions







Jules Leotard – The Daring Young Man On The Flying Trapeze! (1838-1870)


Music Hall – a dead entertainment or a living tradition?

More often than not, when you introduce the idea of singing a Music Hall song to a young person, you are met with some resistance. It’s unfamiliar territory, maybe considered old-fashioned and the songs too simplistic. Students of Music Theatre are required to sing songs pre-1900 as part of their exams, so it is a subject worth exploring.

With the right introduction, it is clear that much of what we consider entertainment today was fathered in the Victorian Music Hall and the tastes of modern audiences are not too dissimilar to those of the Victorians. Continue reading


praise-for-childWhen I was young I remember at school that praise was something I very rarely got from my teachers. In fact I would say I was educated in a fairly negative fashion where teachers focused mainly upon mistakes and not upon success. There is a definite idea in some people’s mind that praising children is somehow bad. You could almost say it’s prevalent in certain people’s thinking. They will tell you that children need to somehow learn about the ‘real’ world. Well do they? Won’t that happen soon enough? I wonder if these same people would be happy to work in a company where they were constantly criticised by their boss and very rarely complimented. Continue reading

New Year – New Goals

make-goalsNew Year resolutions apart, it is often really productive to start the new term by agreeing some goals or targets with your child.

I’m not just speaking of academic targets that you, as a parent, would like to see achieved. That may well be part of the process but, more importantly, it is a chance to find out how your child feels about various subjects, where uncertainties or insecurities may lie and even, perhaps, some ambitions of which you are totally unaware.

It never ceases to amaze me what a really young child can come up with and what a light, guided conversation can reveal. The conversation should never be heavy – just something along the lines of ‘I was wondering if there was something you’d like to have as a goal, something you’d like to improve or get better at this year (or term)? Maybe something you’re already really brilliant at but you’d like to do even better or something that is a bit of a problem?’ The wording would depend on the child and on your relationship. But steer clear of statements like ‘Well! We’re going to sort out ALL your times tables so you know them all perfectly!’ Continue reading

Cut To The Chase

detectiveAny action movie has a good chase, usually towards the end. This has filtered into the language as an instruction to stop wordy explanation and get to the meat of the problem.

Writers should probably stick the words up as a big notice on their office wall! The most common structural problem writers face – amateurs and pros alike – is getting bogged down in too much explanatory or repetitive prose or dialogue with no action.

Thus, cut to the chase in writing means GET TO THE ACTION! Continue reading

Christmas Carols

singing-carolsFor many people, singing Christmas songs and carols is their favourite part of Christmas. It is a wonderful way of connecting with centuries of musical history and a great opportunity for a family sing-song.

Some carol facts…

The term ‘carol’ has its roots in an old medieval French word ‘carole’. One thousand years ago this was a lively dance in a ring with people singing, often with one person leading and the rest of the singers answering. One of our most popular carols has come down to us in this form, with its questions and answers and dancing rhythms –

I saw three ships come sailing in
On Christmas day, on Christmas day
I saw three ships come sailing in
On Christmas day in the morning.

And what was in those ships all three?…
Our saviour Christ and his lady…
And whither sailed those ships all three?…
O they sailed into Bethlehem… Continue reading