The Curse of the Soggy Middle

I’ll start with this one, because no-one else ever seems to – other commentators usually start with something sexy and angst-ridden, like writer’s block. Not dissing writer’s block, but I think the curse of the soggy middle deserves to be the headline act, just this once.

I get rather tired of people obsessing about their word counts. Oh, they will patiently explain, but this genre requires me to write between 80,000 and 90,000 words, so these words have to stay. Actually, no. We can edit, tighten up our script, and use any ‘left-over’ word count to write more interesting words, can’t we? Editing is like a gift, when seen this way.

We can, literally, edit our way to more interesting, compelling material, and use the space we create either to hone a new, exciting minimalist style, or to put more plot in. I vote for that.

The curse of the soggy middle seems to be the result of two things. Firstly, editors who like their authors, trust them to write well, and invite them to submit fifty pages of their next manuscript. The fifty pages are fantastic, and the darling editor says, ‘Yes, lovely, fire away, send me the rest when it’s done…’ but with the end of the incentive, the rest of the book may turn out woolly, vague, and not easy or fun to read.

800px-leon_francois_comerre_la_belle_liseusePerhaps editors really don’t see the end result, or maybe they assume that readers will be forgiving, or even, perhaps, that readers never read beyond the first fifty pages; there are probably reams of stats somewhere which demonstrate that it is more cost effective to write a woolly book – with a brilliant first fifty pages – by a reputable author who is guaranteed to sell enough copies, than spend the time it would need to write a book that is compelling from start to finish.

The other thing that seems to add to soggy middle purgatory is this notion of optimal word counts, the obsession with hitting the target at all costs. But, what if a third of the words are tautological? What if they are repetitive, written in the passive voice, too flowery, too vague? Shall we keep them in, just to stay afloat at ninety thousand words, or shall we cull to sixty-five thousand, say, and write more interesting stuff? I say, go for the cull, every time.

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