Sinking in the Middle?

Nederlands: Het Short Story bushokje op transf...

I am a greedy reader. I read books, mainly science fiction. I scan blogs and articles on science, technology, society, history… I also watch TV documentaries on these topics.

I do not have an eidetic memory; I don’t recall much of what I expose my brain to. But snippets stick to the sides of my neurons as they fly past.

It’s like cholesterol, but in a good way.

The snippets sit and simmer. And when ready, they insinuate themselves into the stories I write, merging in unexpected ways.

It happened just yesterday. A spark lit. And when oxygen and hydrogen are sparked, they combine explosively to make steam.

Cooking Up A Story

Two different themes suddenly did that combining thing. I just had to capture the “steam” in a short story. Two-and-a-half thousand words later, I paused for coffee. I read the first draft. I found that I had blended alien abduction and the “first date” terrors of online dating. In retrospect, they seemed to be a “perfect match”.

So now I am at the middle section of the story, the potentially “soggy pudding” of any narrative. Who has not had a pudding sink in the middle? It’s the part that so often disappoints. In fiction, it’s where the momentum of the exciting premise and build-up is maintained with a few twists and turns to draw the reader deeper into the story until the climactic, surprise ending. The reader invests time in that middle part. Writers should reward, not punish, them.

Soggy Pudding & the Middle Ages

The middle part of a story is often like the European Middle Ages :-

  • it progresses by plodding through endless muddy fields
  • it is occasionally studded with rich ornamentation
  • it suddenly fills with new information, plot complexities and characters

Often, the reasons for this are that the writer :-

  • is uncertain about where the story is heading
  • has tried to revise and improve, but has failed (or has not even bothered to try)
  • has a desperate need to reach the required word limit

Padding the Pudding

This is – to me – the worst writing sin. I despair of stories that are clearly “padded” to meet an editor’s word count target or to turn a novella into a full-blown novel for enhanced financial returns. I hate “padding”. I prefer to edit out the entire soggy middle and join the ends together, rather than ruin a story with soggy pudding padding.

As a result, my short stories are too short for most editors. I tend to write until I have said what I want to say, what the story will support.

And then I stop.

Like this.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3 comments on “Sinking in the Middle?

  1. I have the same problems with middles, but the opposite problem with padding. I’mre-editing my manuscript, trying to take out unnecessary words, particularly in the middle, where I plodded through too many muddy fields in too much detail. Thanks for giving voice to what I’ve been trying to do. It’s why I’ve been slow in keeping up with your blog.

    • Oh, re-re-re-editing! I hate that part. Perfection is unattainable, but still we try.

      Even after submitting a story, potential improvements hit me while driving or trying to find sleep (not at the same time, I should add). Perhaps that is an over-active mind; I still think of better ways to deliver lines in performances of a few years ago.

      Take consolation from a master (Da Vinci, not me), “Art is never finished, only abandoned.”

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