The Sagging Middle

 

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In my day job back in Seattle, I help writers revise and develop their work, which are often works of fiction. One of the things I’ve learned to look for is what we call the “sagging middle.”

A good story starts off with a lot of drama and tension. Things happen.  Everything is new. And then, near the end, there’s a conclusion and some kind of resolution. The murderer is caught, the couple discovers true love, the orphan finds a new home.

But things get tricky in the middle. Even with the best writing, chapters can slide by while nothing about the situation changes. Everyone is just marking time, waiting for the resolution.

About two weeks after we walked out of Le Puy, I felt like I was entering the sagging middle of France. I’d walked fifteen to thirty kilometers a day, without a break, and I was tired. The novelty of springing out of bed before dawn every day, of putting on the same clothes, and then putting one foot in front of the other, was already feeling too familiar.

It’s what Angela and Duffy Ballard, in their book A Blistered Kind of Love, called “the spectacular monotony.”

The days were blending together, and not just for us. It was about this time, somewhere between Figeac and Cahors, that I overheard this exchange:

It was mid-afternoon, and we’d stopped for a beer in an outdoor cafe before we went looking for our gite, which was somewhere outside town. While we waited, I eavesdropped on two young men behind me who also had backpacks propped beside them.

“Where are we?” one asked.

“No idea,” the other answered. “But if we’re going to wash our underwear and let it dry tonight, we must go soon.”

Such is the middle of the Camino.

 

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