A Matter of Middles

So right now I’m what some might call “neck deep” in a rewrite of my latest manuscript.  It’s moving along okay, but it reminds me of a good topic: middles.

See, the previous draft of this manuscript suffered from what my pre-readers called “pacing problems” and what I called “being a huge piece of dogshit.”  In English, the middle dragged.  I shouldn’t have been surprised, really.  The entire novel was inspired by its final scene.  The first scene popped into my head later, and I set about connecting those two dots.

This may have been a mistake.

See, this manuscript was 80,000 words long (1,000 words is roughly five manuscript pages).  By the time this rewrite is finished, I’ll have kept the last 15,000 words and maybe the first 10,000.  That’s right, I’m keeping just under a third of the orginal story.  Ouch.

I’ve often thought about middles.  Several writers I know have said they’ll start a story with a set beginning and ending, but the middle is just a cloudy little kernal of an idea in their minds.  Sometimes it shows.  I just read Wizard and Glass, the middle chapter of King’s Dark Tower series and the first of the books I didn’t love.  As a matter of fact, I damn near hated the thing.  It was a slog and a half.

The middle is supposed to be the bulk of your book.  It’s where the stuff happens.  If it’s slow, your story is slow.  There’s no way around it.  Even when it’s the best party of a story, like The Empire Strikes Back, it usually involves bullshit like Luke doing handstands in the swamp.  And don’t get me started on how slow The Two Towers is with its “Hobbits in a Tree” subplot.  Or season three of Lost.  Blech.

Now, I’ve encountered more than a few stories that handle the middle very well.  Charlie Huston’s excellent crime thriller Caught Stealing solves the problem by breaking the narrative into four seperate days that almost read as four different stories. Several of the Vertigo comics series handle the problem by keeping the narrative moving in finite story arcs.  The Walking Dead, though an excellent series most of the time, could learn a little from the Vertigo books.

At the end of the day, I’m stuck with solving my own middle problem.  I think I’m doing a good job, but my pre-readers will have to tell me more.  Looking down the line, I’ll have to tackle the problem again.  The next two books I have on my slate involve one that tackles the middle issue in a rather creative fashion, but the other is currently based on its opening and closing scenes, and I’m just not sure what that middle is yet.

Why do I do this to myself?