Monday, August 8, 2011

Get Over Your Slump with Guest Blogger: Shea Berkley

Win a copy of The Marked Son and meet author Shea Berkley today at the Book Boost!

She's here to discuss being down in the slumps and here's what she had to say...

Have you ever yelled this before?

“The middle of my book has posture issues!”

No? (looks around) Why am I the only one who says stuff like this?

If you have a middle that sags (nothing happening) or has a pot belly (unfocused and padded with unnecessary scenes), then you are deep into a middle of a book slump. Not fun.
I hate to tell you this, but usually when you get to this point you’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere earlier in your book.

Now, if you’re an outline person, you probably obediently followed your outline and didn’t let you characters take you in a more character driven direction. If you’re a seat-of-your-pants writer, then you let your characters wander too much and they probably need a bit more direction. (It’s okay to tell them “no” sometimes.)

To get back on track, you’ll have to go on a hunt. It’s not as bad as it sounds. Go to the last place where character (the essence of who your character is) and the plot (the reason you’re writing the book in the first place) worked perfectly together. From there, go step-by-step until you see A) your character behaving contrary to his or her nature to fulfill a plot point, or B) your character taking over the book , as in running amuck without any real motivation or point to that scene.

Now, once you’ve found your weak point, you’ve got to let the character act in a way that organically leads him or her to the next scene that will move the story forward. The difficult part comes when you realize the next scene and the one after that and the one after that may not work anymore and they have to be cut. Don’t panic. Often you can cannibalize some sentences and dialogue, but seriously most of it will have to go. (No crying. You want a story that an editor will buy, don’t you?)

So don’t humor yourself or your characters. Be tough. Only keep what moves the story toward the climax of the scene, chapter and ultimately the book.

Just remember, your story is about the characters and how they respond to any given situation, and that response has to make sense for the character you’ve created and the story you’re telling. Easy, huh? Not at all. (No whining. No one ever said writing well was easy. If they did, they’re lying and you don’t need to be friends with a liar, so dump ‘em…and get to work.)

A Note from the Book Boost: That is sage advice for writers, Shea. Thanks for joining us today at the Boost. Please tell us more about your sag-free book!


Seventeen-year-old Dylan Kennedy always knew something was different about him, but until his mother abandoned him in the middle of Oregon with grandparents he’s never met, he had no idea what.

When Dylan sees a girl in white in the woods behind his grandparents’ farm, he knows he’s seen her before…in his dreams. He’s felt her fear.

Heard her insistence that only he can save her world from an evil lord who uses magic and fear to feed his greed for power.

Unable to shake the unearthly pull to Kera, Dylan takes her hand. Either he’s completely insane or he’s about to have the adventure of his life, because where they’re going is full of creatures he’s only read about in horror stories. Worse, the human blood in his veins has Dylan marked for death…


Easing back, I press my spine into the prickly bark and rub my hands through my hair. It’s obvious they don’t know I’m in their world. According to Navar, I’m not even real. Granel is a problem. He believes in my existence and has enough sway over Navar that he’s gotten him to at least consider the possibility I’m real and a threat.

After seeing what I’ve just seen, I’ve got to get back home now more than ever.

Before I can move, the guard appears, dangling upside-down from the branch above me with a smile that doesn’t reach his eyes. “Hello, mutt.”

He cartwheels out of the tree, lands on his feet, and swings his sword in one fluid motion. I dodge the blade and spring to my feet, calling on the tree branches to capture him. The man is quickly tangled, yet with a heavy blow, his sword slices neatly through the wood. He drops to the ground unfazed.

With eyes glittering, he stalks me.

I fumble for the sword Bodog gave me as real fear begins to grow. This guy is a hardened soldier. I don’t stand a chance.

I dodge his blade time and again, feeling the whistle of cold steel every time it passes. I manage to pull out my sword and then something unexpected happens. The blade ripples to life with a flash of fire. I thrust the sword in front of me and gape. Holy flaming fire!

The soldier stops and smiles. “Well, well, well. You’re full of surprises.”

“Just wait. I’ve got more,” I say and shrug with a confidence I don’t exactly feel. Hopefully my act has him thinking I’m used to a good flaming sword fight. To back up my false confidence, I find myself lunging forward, my flaming sword slicing toward his head. He spins away and the battle begins in earnest.

I must be crazy. I’ve never fought with a sword. He acts like he was born with it in his hand. His blade comes frighteningly close to my head and cuts off a few strands of my hair before I push him away. Trees are used as vaulting points. Branches as obstacles. Forest debris whirls. We tussle and my sword flies out of my hand.

Desperate for cover, I duck behind a tree, breathless and sore. I’m at my wit’s end. How long can I postpone the inevitable? I duck as his blade swipes at me again. I don’t want to die. Not like this. Not here. Not now.

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Rebecca said...

Great advice, Shea! I guess it's like putting the book on a diet and exercise routine. Get the fat and flab out!

Loved your excerpt, BTW. Would love to read the rest of it!

rrgreene (at)

Aubrie said...

I had a saggy middle to one of my books. I added in a fight scene, and voila, much better!

Lisa Kessler said...

Great blog Shea! :)

I write dark paranormal so when I feel like the middle is losing tension it's usually time to raise the body count! LOL

Lisa :)

Melanie Card said...

Great advice, Shea. I hate the feeling when I've realized I've taken a wrong turn. But I love the feeling when I figure out what's wrong and the book starts to fall into place.

Debby said...

Great advice! Has it ever not worked for you?
debby236 aqt gmail dot com

Robin Perini said...

I completely agree with Shea, that when a book stops working, we have to go backwards to fix it. As to sagging middles, I tend to use turning points to help me through sagging middles. In other words, big dramatic scenes that surprise the character and the reader. Another tip is to make sure you characters have strong, positive goals...this goes back to Shea's point of really knowing the character.

And I'm all for dead bodies, Lisa :-). My latest book has 11 of them :-).

And Shea's book is absolutely amazing. Surprises abound, the characters are well motivated. It's a great read!

Na said...

Plenty of usueful advice. I agree it's important to recognize what is needed to move a story forward and what is not. Sometimes it may mean cutting a scene or changing it. Either way it's about allowing the characters to flow and act in a way that works.

voip services said...

Great advice!