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Sunday, 8 April 2018

What to do with a flabby middle

The average book is around about 80,000 words, give or take a full stop.

So, using 'author maths' (which is the only kind I am any good at, I can't even count my fingers and toes and reach the same total twice), you need around 5,000 words to introduce your characters and set up the premise for your book, and, say, another 10,000 to get things moving. And then it's going to take you around about another 10,000 for your denouement, to wrap up all the loose ends and get it all over and done with.

As you can see, that leaves you with...(hastily calculates) around 55,000 words in which you are neither starting nor ending your story. And, if you are not careful, those 55,000 words can just sit there, all lumpy and not pulling their weight, because words will do that, if they are allowed to. They lie back on the sofa of your novel, eating crisps and hogging the remote and doing absolutely nothing to advance your plot. And you need to go after them with the cattle prod of plot development and then give them the kick up the bum of character arc too.
Imagine it like this. You are the boot and the little man is your story, by the way. If you are imagining it the other way round, you may want to rethink the life of an author.

Remember what I keep telling you? That every single word needs to further your plot or develop your character? Take a look at those 55,000 words. Now, stop treating them like teenagers who don't tidy their rooms or bring their dirty plates out into the kitchen, and start treating them like co-workers who are leaving you to do all the heavy lifting whilst going out and getting drunk and coming back and putting their feet on the desks.

Basically, make them work. What about introducing a sub plot to give those 55,000 words something to do? Or a twist to the plot you've got? If you really can't get them to do something, maybe have a think about your plot. Have you got enough to fill an entire novel?

If you are really struggling, and those wretched words have not only taken over the remote but they've eaten all the chocolate too and are now lying back and asking you to make them a coffee - try taking your novel apart. Go through, chapter by chapter and make a list of which characters are doing what in each one. Then sum up each chapter - does it need to be there? What does it achieve in terms of the book as a whole?
Do not let your words tell you this. If they are not dragging your story, kicking and screaming, onto the next act, then they are not working.
And don't let me catch you using the 'really long descriptions' excuse to use up a lot of those flabby middle words. Those are still flabby, they're just wearing flattering clothes.

1 comment:

Sandra Mackness said...

Such good advice, Jane. Good fun to read too. Thanks for posting x