Jim Butcher vs. The Great Swampy Middle

Jim Butcher, author of the Dresden Files books (soon to be a SCI-FI original series), has a nice essay up on his site about getting past the Great Swampy Middle (GSM) which threatens every writers work in progress. It’s got some very helpful advice on getting past those parts of a work-in-progress which trip you up (subplots, mini-arcs, new characters). It’s really a very smart piece and has great tips.
However, I’ve met the GSM before, and while it’s not very nice, Mr. Butcher is a little unfair to it. I’ll let you in on a little secret: the GSM doesn’t always turn out to be an enemy. Mr. Butcher ends his essay saying that the best way to avoid getting lost in the middle is to outline. This is true. But I don’t outline. I find it restraining and feel that I don’t work as hard when I know too far in advance how I’m getting to the next section, scene, or even bit of dialogue. That’s where the GSM can be a help. A little free-writing, a little free-wheeling, and some careful revision can tighten up a GSM and find treasure. Pam Painter, a writing teacher of mine at Emerson College, referred to “gifts” that a writer gives to themselves. This is anything that appears, unexpectedly, in your writing which can be taken and used in a number of ways or different scenes, an object or character or image or symbol that can be replanted, again and again throughout a story or novel. It can be something that appears on the last page of your first draft, and that thing can be taken and replanted throughout the book by you as you create your second draft. It’s hidden gems that you find along the way, through exploratory writing, through the stuff that might get cut. So, while GSM’s can be hard, they aren’t always horrible.

Leave a Reply