Okay – you’re reading a romance and loving it. It’s funny or it’s sad, it’s exciting, it’s emotional – you name it, it works. Then you notice it’s not working anymore. Likely, you’ve reached what writers refer to as the sagging middle. Sometimes this point comes earlier or later in the book, but, whenever it does, it threatens to ruin the whole read. At least it does for me. But I’m tougher than many – if a book sags in the middle and doesn’t come out of it like now, I grade the whole book down. Other readers aren’t as tough; they may acknowledge skimming, setting the book aside, or some other defensive strategy they’ve developed to ward off boredom, but won’t let it affect their thoughts and feelings on the entire read.
Quite awhile ago I asked readers to talk about being stuck in the middle of a good read gone bad. Here’s what some of you had to say:
Andrea: I recently picked up a book by Jo Beverley and a few pages into it I was on the computer looking for her other titles. I was so excited about this book as it was the first one I’d read in a long time that prompted me to post a message on the bulletin boards. Then I got half way through and realized that the heroine was still boring on about her outraged virtue and the plot didn’t seem to be advancing. I found both characters’ behaviour very tedious and was really glad I had only ordered one book from Amazon.
Stacy: I have faced this ‘sagging middle’ problem in nearly every historical I have ever read. I assume this is, as Laurie noted, due to the extra pages an author must deliver, but these meandering middles take outlandish turns, force long separations, follow boring rabbit trails and generally leave me so worn out by the book’s end that I am starting to shy away from historicals altogether. For me, spicier sex scenes and great beginnings are not worth enduring those tortuous middles. Of course, now that I think of it, there are enough disappointing endings to go around as well. In fairness, I realize that it must not be easy to write a good romance and please everyone at the same time, but it seems wrong to lose a good plot in page quantity.
Rose: One of the best books I’ve read in some time was Deborah Smith’s A Place to Call Home. . . at least, most of it was. The book follows the two main characters (I forget their names) from fairly young childhood to young adolescence in the first half of the book. Despite the fact that the characters were much too young to have sexual contact, the intensity of their relationship was nearly more than I could bear. I couldn’t wait to see these two star-crossed un-lovers get together. But IMHO, the book lost steam after that. Still, that first half ranks as one of the finest examples of repressed passion that I’ve ever read.