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  1. Jacco

    Jacco Member

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    The Middle 1/3 of Manuscript is Boring... help?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Jacco, Apr 5, 2013.

    Hi guys. This is my first thread here. I did a Google and Forum search for similar topics but I didn't really find anything.... mostly because I didn't know what to search for. So maybe you guys can help.

    I'm in the process of editing my book manuscript, trying to get it ready to go to a publisher and as I've been doing my read throughs, I've noticed that the middle third lags quite a bit. I remember some advice I got once that said if you find a part of your story boring, your reader surely will.

    The first and last thirds are awesome (to me at least) but the middle just kinda gets bogged down in exposition and explanation.

    My problem is that it is a fantasy story so most of the world building goes on in this boring part of the book. It's too important to the story to just be cut and I can't figure out how to add it all and keep the plot interesting and not dull.
    So, anyone who's got experience with this type of thing, through reading or writing, I could use any advice you are willing to give. What do you like to see in the middle of a story that keeps your interest? Do you have any examples I could find that might help?
     
  2. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I suppose my first thought is, how important can all this material be if you can get one-third of the way into the book without it? I'm not saying that to be flippant, but quite seriously--I'm guessing that perhaps you don't need nearly as much exposition and explanation as you think that you do.

    For example, let's say that the characters have to capture the Golden Carrot in order to defeat the Bunny of Evil. Do we _really_ need to know precisely how the Golden Carrot was created, the history of the monks that created it and bred it from orange to gold, the history of the bunny, the exotic nature of his poisonous fur, the origin of the Plastic Grass of Healing, and so on and so on? Or can we just drop an occasional tantalizing hint and let the reader be puzzled about a lot of things?

    I just finished re-reading _The Shining_, which is packed full of tantalizing hints, but it doesn't really offer a nice neat timeline of exactly how and why the Overlook is what it is. If you read it several times, and take a lot of notes, and make up a chart and a timeline...well, you're still going to be doing a great deal of guessing. The movie offers even less background. And while I fear that I'll be generating yet another debate on whether Stephen King is a genius or a hack, the fact remains that lots of people found that story gripping and satisfying, despite its lack of a completely spelled-out background.

    Similarly, _The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe_ didn't explain the origin of the wardrobe - sure, _The Magician's Nephew_ did, but that was written and published years later.

    So, I very strongly suspect that you don't really need all of this material that's clogging up the middle third of your book. _You_ need to know it, to keep your tantalizing hints consistent, but I'll bet that you don't need to include it in the book.
     
  3. KaTrian

    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'm struggling with something similar (or we are, my writing partner and I). We have this space colony, Solus, sprung up around Earth, the asteroids, the moon, Mars, etc., and it feels important to show/tell how the colony came to be. But if you write a character ask it, it feels... unnatural? If the narrator tells it => danger of infodumps.

    I agree with leaving things out, so that the reader has to piece the puzzle together. But as is the case with our story, beta readers have mentioned we should describe the colony more, give a clearer lay-out/map of Solus, shed light on its history, so clearly background info, a lot of it even, is important and has its place. So far we've written one-paragraph bits and sprinkled some in dialogue, but it's difficult to see what exactly slows down the flow.

    Could inserting some of the information in dialogue make the story lag less?
     
  4. iolair

    iolair Active Member

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    If it doesn't help the narrative, cut it.
     
  5. Birmingham

    Birmingham Active Member

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    Not every single part has to be fascinating. Not every page MUST be amazing. I think you should ask yourself whether it seems boring because it truly is, or because you've lived with is so much in your head that it's like you've been watching reruns all the time. Think about it. If you'll show the world's best movie to two people, one who watches it 3 times a week and one who watches it for the first time today, their reactions are going to be different. Perhaps you should let someone else take a look at it, read a bit of the more interesting parts, and a bit of the more problematic part. This way you'll have the point of view of someone closer to the future reader of the finished product. Someone who bumps into it for the first time, and not someone, like you, who has been living with it in his head.
     
  6. Jacco

    Jacco Member

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    I actually asked myself that same question. The reason is because the general premise of the world is your standard urban fantasy; vampires, werewolves, etc live secretly apart from humans. So my protag gets kinda dropped into the fantasy world without previously knowing it had existed. So basically the reader is learning about the world and its rules as she is. For the first 1/3 the we know the world because we live in it. The middle 1/3 is world building and set up for the final 1/3 which relies on that world building.

    So it is important to the plot resolution, but I'm just fearful of it getting too bogged down. The manuscript is already 115K words so I can't really add filler to break it up.
     
  7. Jacco

    Jacco Member

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    I think leaving parts out for the reader to piece together works in terms of plot layout, but not so much with world building. YOU have to tell the reader what the rules are for your world otherwise there is no way they can know. That can cause deus ex problems later on if you don't set solid rules which is something good writers want to avoid generally (unless of course you MEAN to do it).

    I would recommend going into as much detail as you can with your space colony. But, like me, you seem to be at a loss of how to do that without making it boring of info dumpy. :\
     
  8. Quille

    Quille Senior Member

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    I'm a bit confused here. If you're saying that the middle part is a secret enclave of supernatural beings in the midst of humanity, I wonder how much world building you need to do?
    Based on the thought above, the rules you're talking about would be behavioral, in which case, I'd have the character break a few of them and live through the consequences.
    Even if your world is somewhere else, I think you need to explore it through your character's thoughts and reactions.
     
  9. doghouse

    doghouse Member

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    If the reader is learning about the world as she does, then this is happening during action, right?

    If you're stopping the action to tell the reader this, that, and the other, it could frustrate the reader -- aka, boredom. Yeah?

    See what I'm getting at?

    You can get your world rules across throughout your story in a natural way. Make it active.

    Still, some readers dig reading about what others would deem an info-dump. *chuckles*
     
  10. Jacco

    Jacco Member

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    The world building primarily consists of my protag learning the intricacies of the "Underworld." What species of monsters inhabit it, who governs it, how the politics of said government are set up, rules of magic usage, etc. Because the first 1/3 or so takes place in the "human world" (which is to say ours) there is very little building that needs to be done because we are all familiar with it. Once the plot really kicks off and she becomes aware of the "underworld" is when I need to go into detail about all of the aforementioned stuff because it becomes very important to the resolution of the plot.

    And I do explore it through their thoughts and actions. Most of the exposition is through dialogue. I have an entire where the protag is sitting at a table with another character and they are looking at a book and talking about the relevant information where my protag is asking questions and interacting with it.

    It all happens during action and scenes, yes. It is very rarely narrator exposition. But as I said above, it happens via character conversations which ends up feeling like straight up narrator exposition anyway. It also causes the plot and pacing to slow wayyy down.
     
  11. Mithrandir

    Mithrandir Contributing Member

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    Might you invent a nice sub-plot or two that exposes these rules. Put your Protag into awkward situations because she doesn't know how things work. The conflict will come from culture clash, and the world will be explained more.
     
  12. Jacco

    Jacco Member

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    I had one for a while but I removed it to lower the word count. Right now my story is at 115K so I don't have any room to add stuff unfortunately.
     
  13. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Review what is really necessary, and what isn't vital. Just because it exists...say ghouls, maybe their use of cleaning up the sewers and passages of mangled corpses is important, but their society/structure isn't. So it can me seen or mentioned in passing and nothing more. Leave some for other books, like the ghouls, especially if they really don't play a part in the plot. Trust the readers, they're usually pretty sharp and pick up things quickly.

    Also the 'rules' can be learned through interaction and action as opposed to explained. If vampires have a hierarchy, for example, one stepping out of line and being violently dealt with/harshly eliminated, will demonstrate the rule while possibly moving the plot forward, if such action ties in with where the story is going.

    Also, 1/3 of the way through for the plot to really kick off maybe a bit late. Then again, maybe not.

    Take a look at how other authors have dealt with urban fantasy, how things are introduced and what was turned out to be vital, and what wasn't (maybe introduced in sequels).
     
  14. funkybassmannick

    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    I would suggest attacking each scene individually. First, you should ask yourself why you wrote those scenes in the first place. How does it fit in with everything? Why is it important? If it's not important, then cut it. If it is important, then you should work on making the scenes more interesting.

    Then make sure each scene does certain things. Generally, each scene should:
    1) Develop characters
    2) Develop Setting
    3) Further plot
    4) Show either conflict or resolution with conflict

    Then, you should trim down your scene (especially if you feel you can't add anything, that's probably a sign you need to trim things down). Whenever you don't like something, deleting extraneous writing does wonders to clearing up your scenes. It makes the important stuff feel more powerful.

    Just make sure each scene contains those 4 elements (though, some may not need to contain all four to be effective) Add, remove, or combine characters (i.e. merging two like characters into one), change the setting, show the setting interfering/interacting with the plot, remove or reinforce underdeveloped plot elements. Basically all of these things should add conflict or resolution. Don't overdo the resolution, of course, in the middle third. One good rule of thumb is the "Yes, but.../ No, and..." trick. If your POV character succeeds in a scene, then it's "Yes, they succeed, but then this happens that complicates things." If they fail to achieve their immediate goal, then it's "No, they failed, and then this other horrible thing happens to make it even more complicated."
     
  15. NigeTheHat

    NigeTheHat Contributing Member Contributor

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    If it's dull, get rid of it. It doesn't matter how important to the story it is - cut it out. From the sounds of it, whatever this part is doing it isn't doing well enough.

    Once you've cut it, work out what the story is now missing, and put that back in in a more interesting fashion - maybe using sub-plots like Mithrandir suggested.

    tl;dr: don't add. Replace.

    To answer your specific questions:

    When I'm reading, the middle third is where I like to see the protagonist really come up against it. They've had the lead-in, the plot's rolling, now let's see them bleed. By the end of this second third, it should be pretty dark. They may know what they need to overcome, but they've got no idea how to do it.

    For an example, you could try some of the Dresden Files books (full disclosure: I've only read the first couple). They've got a setting similar to what you describe, and while the writing isn't going to win any literary awards, the plot clips along fast and the exposition is weaved throughout the story without being too info-dumpy.
     

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