This post originally ran on 18 March, 2009.
Yesterday, Heidi posted about sagging middles in your stories, and how to prop them up. That started me thinking about the various techniques writers employ to plump up their plots.
One way to flesh out your story is through the use of sub-plots running along-side of your main story. In a mystery novel, these secondary plots are useful fixtures on which to hang a red herring, thus diverting the reader's attention and building tension before the resolution of the mystery. In any genre, the sub-plots lead the reader over and under the main story, keeping the action from becoming flat-out boring.
Authors also plump up their stories by adding tangential information, not necessarily to move the story forward, but in a way that is somehow related. For example, the main character in a book owns a garden shop and has a special interest in flower development. Readers could also be interested in such information, or so the writer presumes, and using a deft hand, will add numerous paragraphs about cultivating the perfect red, white, and blue rose. If that information adds definition to the character (perhaps we'll speculate the person is very patriotic), and is interesting, concise, and engaging, it's a good use of extra words.
However, be cautious about making your middle too fat with extraneous information. I just finished reading a novel in which one character develops Alzheimer's Disease, and the author clearly took a didactic approach around this theme. There isn't anything wrong with that, but make certain the information doesn't read like a promotional brochure stuck between pieces of the plot. That kind of enhancement just pulls the reader out of the story. Make sure the information is seamlessly woven into the fabric of the book.
When using these sorts of techniques, a little goes a long way when it comes to plumping up your manuscript. Always be sure the additions support the story and enhance the characters in some way. Like plumped up lips on a movie star, too much of a good thing can just be, well... too much. Dare I say weird? What do you think? Have you read a novel lately that had a bit too much filler?
Dani Greer is a founding member of The Blood Red Pencil and teaches authors how to create their own blog book tours. When she's not editing cozy mysteries, she works on her own writing and illustration, and runs a liturgical arts business with her husband.