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Middles – Part 4: Wispy Middles

You can read the rest of this series here:

Part 1: Mushy Middle Syndrome
Part 2: Propel Yourself into the Middle
Part 3: The Meandering Middle

A while back, I picked up a free novel on Amazon. It wasn’t my normal genre, but I had an evening to kill and I wanted something light to read, so I dove into it. About a quarter of the way through the book, I could see exactly where the plot was going. About halfway through, the plot was mostly wrapped up to my satisfaction. After that halfway point, everything devolved into a string of random events that were completely inconsistent with the characters. Finally, at the end, a completely out-of-the-blue plot twist showed up and was quickly resolved, and then everything ended with a cheesy happily ever after.

Now, I don’t mind happily ever afters. And I don’t mind predictable plots. What bothered me about the book was how inconsistent and random the middle was. The plot was there—it was just wrapped up too early, and I suspect the author needed to fill word count requirements. The book suffered from a wispy middle that didn’t fulfill the implicit promise to the reader.

I think the wispy middle is probably the easiest mushy middle to fix. However, if you aren’t careful, a wispy middle can quickly turn into a cramped middle from too many events, or it can turn into a meandering middle from too many random scenes.

Fixing A Wispy Middle

How do you fix a wispy middle? Again—it comes down to plot. Look back at our last article about meandering middles, because some of the advice applies to wispy middles, too. Look at your throughline or logline. Summarize your book in 25 words or less, and ask yourself: How is my book fulfilling the promise of that logline? Here are some ideas to fill out a wispy middle and turn it into a solid middle that fulfills your book’s promise to the reader.

Find three intervals in your plot.
What are the three key turning points for your main character? Define those. Put a word count goal on them, if you wish—maybe you want your main character to have 10,000 words in the first interval, 30,000 in the second, and another 10,000 to drive toward the climax and through the denouement. Just focus on the main character for this part of your analysis—you can add in the subplots and other characters later. For right now, focus on that main throughline and the intervals that get your main character from Point A to Point Z.

Focus on tension.
Once you identify your intervals and know what happens in each of them, identify the key scenes that lead up to each interval. Don’t have enough scenes? Now you can start adding them. Just add them with those interval peaks in mind. Don’t even worry about the final climax at this point—make sure your additional scenes just add tension to those interval peaks.

Add a subplot or two (or several).
Now that you’ve got your main intervals and scenes defined and fleshed out, go back and add subplots. This is where a storyboard comes in really handy. If your scenes are summarized on PostIts or index cards, you can easily move them around and look at the overall flow of storylines, viewpoints, action and rest periods, intervals, and the like.

Consider theme.
At this point in the analysis of your book, it can be helpful to consider the themes you want to communicate. Perhaps you can add some descriptive narrative, exposition, or dialogue that communicates those themes. Adding pieces of narrative, exposition, or dialogue that don’t directly contribute to the plot is perfectly fine if you use them sparingly and for other purposes—developing character, perhaps.

One Final Thought

It’s no secret that the publishing world is changing quickly, and it should be obvious from my bio that I have a particular bias about how to publish, but I think any author in this new world has the freedom to completely redefine book lengths. Dean Wesley Smith had a terrific post a while back, about the history of book lengths and why we consider novels a certain length. The point is—maybe your story isn’t really a novel at all. The book I read that evening—it would have fit much more appropriately into a novella length. If the author had cut most of the last third, I would have found the entire story more believable.

If you think your story might work better as something shorter than a full-length novel, don’t fight it. Even if you want to pursue traditional publication with a bigger project, go ahead and publish your short story, novelette, novella, or short novel on your own. Self-publishing shorter pieces can lead to increased visibility and attention from agents and editors, and they would much rather read a tight, well-written, well-plotted short work than a long, meandering, or wispy work that doesn’t have enough plot to fill it up. A wispy middle isn’t a death knell for your story. Stretch it, deepen it, or redefine it—it still deserves to be told.

In two weeks we’ll look at the last the Mushy Middle: The Cramped Middle.


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  1. […] two weeks we’ll look at the next Mushy Middle: The Wispy Middle. VN:F [1.9.20_1166]please wait…Rating: 10.0/10 (4 votes cast)Middles – Part 3: The Meandering […]

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