The middle (of a story) KILLS me. I freeze when I have to decide which way things are going to go, and how, and that happens during the middle for me.
Middle, middle, middle... It's the Slough of Despond!
The Middle is where I usually fizzle out.
The middle is DANGEROUS territory.
Why? Because the Middle of a story is where you have a million-and-one options, a million-and-one directions to choose from, and a million-and-one ways to really show off your writing skills.
The Middle is also, where you have a million-and-one opportunities to really screw up your story for good. Opportunities that will send you spiraling into ever tightening circles that eventually jam you into a corner you can't get out of. In short: get you Lost in your own story.
You KNOW you're Lost when you hit that point where you're not sure what to do next. Details and points of logic start tripping you up. Characters, situations, and points of view start evolving all by themselves. They can be fun and often fascinating, but for some reason, they never bring you anywhere close to where you plan to End.
You did plan an End right?
The #1 Reason why writers lose themselves in the Middle is because they started writing without a solid idea of exactly where they wanted to END. Basically, they plunked themselves down in front of their word processor and started writing -- and that's it. No plot, no plan, no outline, and no clue about what direction they wanted their story to go in. AKA: Writing by the Seat of their Pants.
The Fastest way out of any wasteland, especially a bogged down Middle, is Choose a Destination -- an END. Once you've figured out where you want to go, break out your trusty roadmap to figure out where you are and what major highways are closest to you that will take you there.
Actually no, it's Not Simple. In fact, it's very often PAINFUL. Choosing a destination when you're already halfway through often means hacking out huge reams of text you've spent days, weeks, or months on simply because that stuff is no longer relevant to the End you have in mind.
So what do you do with all that text you no longer need? You SAVE it as its own document and use it later for its own story -- a story you WILL have an end for before you begin this time, right?
"But what if it's already posted, like on a story site?"
There's a reason I only post when I know the end is in sight -- but that's me. In cases like this, I advise Finishing the story COMPLETELY -- without posting! Then repost the whole thing in one shot. Basically, tear the whole thing down and repost the whole thing back up in one night.
And for God's sake, don't post a public apology! No one wants to read that crap! They're there to read a Story. They could care less about how the author pissed themselves. If someone asks, answer privately and discreetly.
Okay, here are some ways to get through the MIDDLE -- before it gets You.
This is the huge dramatic Confrontation with plenty of special effects and narrow escapes that happens right at the very end of the Middle. The fallout from the glorious Middle event uncovers special powers, and secrets such as the Master Bad Guy, which kicks the story straight toward the climactic end.
This type of Middle is most often seen in high adventure stories and comic books.
Just about every comic-book movie that's come out has a huge Middle Confrontation that forces the main character to use their Special Powers. This invariably brings them to be noticed by the Master Bad Guy, which in turn heads them straight toward the movie's climactic battle.
The Mini Arc
A Mini Arc is a whole little storyline of its own plopped smack in the Middle. It's connected to the main story, but the focus shifts onto a different set of circumstances and characters. It's a little story wholly contained in the Middle designed to expose characters and situations that are vaguely relevant to the main plot.
The Mini Arc is actually something of an antique style. It was very common in the turn of the century stories, but not used much in modern tales as it takes an awful lot of attention away from the main characters.
Jane Austin's romances all have a central Mini Arc where another whole set of characters goes through their own romantic adventure with the main characters only slightly involved. JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series was pretty much a whole pile of Mini Arcs threaded together.
The Sudden Subplot is a watered-down version of the Mini-Arc. It's a situation that suddenly develops and has to be dealt with without actually being a major part of the story. Contained completely in the Middle, the Sudden Subplot generally introduces you to some new characters and/or a new threat. Once that's solved, the main character leaves those characters and that situation behind to go on with the rest of the story.
The Star Wars movies ALL had a Sudden Subplot jammed in the middle, the most infamous of the lot being the Pod Race in The Phantom Menace.
Right there in the Middle, a flamboyant new supporting character tromps out onto the stage. They only have cameo shots elsewhere in the story, but in the Middle they take over to add important information and/or tools that kick the main characters straight for the Climax in the most entertaining fashion possible.
Traditionally they're known as the Comic Relief character and most often seen in old-time theater and older movies.
Edna Mode of The Incredibles is one of the more obvious of these characters. Another example would be the mechanical genius that supplies James Bond with cool new gadgets right there in the center of the movie.
In the old Abbot and Costello movies, the Middle is where Costello has a whole scene to himself where in his fumbling he discovers who the real bad guys are, ends up knowing a vital piece of information, or accidentally gains the missing object that everyone is looking for -- though no one believes him.
The Reversal is where the Worst Possible Scenario happens and everything goes to hell in a hand-basket. Basically, the main characters make it to their goal -- only to have their hard won victory snatched right out of their hands.
The Reversal is damned near trademark for the Indiana Jones movies. Every single success that Indy has is not only taken from him it triggers a situation that he barely escapes with his life. Not that any of that stops him from trying again and again...
This type of Middle is most commonly seen in Horror stories where the monster is successfully killed only he's not dead, or captured only to have him escape. Only now, the monster is pissed off and goes directly after the main characters leading straight to the Climax.
The Middle can be the most horrifying part of your story to deal with, but if you PLAN for it, the Middle can become the central Masterpiece that makes the whole thing worth reading.
The methods I've listed are best chosen during the planning stages of your story, but they can be applied after the fact with just as much success -- as long as you don't mind taking a hack saw to your story.
The methods I've listed are best chosen during the planning stages of your story, but they can be applied after the fact with just as much success -- as long as you don't mind taking a hacksaw to your story.
DISCLAIMER: As with all advice, take what you can use and throw out the rest. As a multi-published author, I have been taught some fairly rigid rules on what is publishable and what is not. If my rather straight-laced (and occasionally snotty,) advice does not suit your creative style, by all means, IGNORE IT.
Looking for more Writing Tips & Tricks?
This is definitely a helpful tutorial.
I definitely fall into the middle trap, most of the time because of the millions of possibilities. I get stuck at the beginning sometimes for the same reason! One recurring problem I seem to have is that (to use a metaphor I recall you using) the alligators I throw in the boat are all clones... I try throwing in something to make things happen, but then realise I've already done that a few times before in the same story and it must be getting tedious by now. Sigh.
This time though, I have planned my ending, so hopefully planning out my middle won't be such a struggle. I know how my characters need to change to get there, I just can't figure out what conflicts to throw that will get them there. But I suppose that's just one of the things you have to wrack your brains over if you're ever going to get it done.
I'm getting off track. Thank you again for all your lovely tips.
First figure out what the Character's main Problem IS:
-- A Physical Flaw?
-- A shortage of talent in a given area?
-- A Personality flaw?
-- An Emotional Flaw?
If it's a Physical or Talent flaw, those can be fixed with some Training.
-- If they're bullied into said training that can be quite entertaining to write, and read.
Personality and Emotional flaws however, take a bit of Research -- Psychological Research.
First, identify the specific problem:
-- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?
-- Fear of heights?
-- Fear of small furry critters?
-- Fear of Commitment?
-- Fear of Women? (Have you considered writing yaoi?)
Then go to Google.com and find a psychology site. Once there Look Up the Problem and see what they have to say about Fixing it. Apply that to your story.
Then look up: Stages of Grief. That will be the Character Arc you'll need to map out the Fix.
This trick has worked wonders for my stories.
I like the bit near the beginning, where you go "Characters, situations and points of view start evolving all by themselves. They can be fun and often fascinating, but...never bring you anywhere close to where you plan to End.
You did plan an End right?" For some reason I can see you saying that last bit in total seriousness, having waited a moment.
That's exactly right! LOL!
but this...this I shall worship
I especially like the Reversal idea. Watch out my character-children; i'm coming for you
-- And I'm glad the essays are proving helpful.
This is helpful advice.
For one of my long stories, I am making an outline, since it is going to be long and I do not want to get stuck in the trackless wasteland known as The Middle. And I know how I want it to end, so I will less likely get stuck in the middle like so many do.
-- Yet, soooooo many people just can't seem to figure this out. (face-palm)
I have seen many Naruto stories get stuck in the Chūnin Exams and never be continued.
They need to follow your advice about the trackless wasteland; it’s a desert worse than the Land of Wind desert and Sahara desert put together. Those who cross need a plan to get across.
Sadly, most schools look at what sort of degrees a teacher has earned when they really ought to be asking, "What sort of Experience do you have in this subject?"
Just so you know, I've published over 30 titles, all of them Fiction. This is where all my advice comes from; personal experience -- and I am STILL learning new things about my craft.
I'm glad you like my tutorials.
That's simple enough. Throw more alligators into the boat.
-- In other words, have something happen to your characters to push them into revealing more of who they are, what they can do, and how they think. If they have special talents THIS is where they should show them off. This is also where their personal problems, hang-ups, denial issues, phobias, and quirks should be revealed -- and that they really need to work on them.
I assumed the capitalized Lost was not an intentional reference to the show Lost, but if it was it's a veeery fitting example. And it if wasn;t it made me snicker anyway.
-- Oh! You caught my Pun! Two cookies for you.
"lost" is a prime example of a story that never did end up anywhere in particular.
Anyway, I discovered that it isn't so much "the middle" I fear as the between times between plot-points. I know a bunch of things that are going to happen in the middle, but I don't know what happens between those things, which leads to awkwardness. And something has to happen between those plot-points because important character development needs to occur, conversations need to be had, part of the world need to be revealed, etc. So this time, I'm outlining the living daylights out of my story before writing it. Well, maybe not the living daylights, but enough so I know what should happen in each chapter while leaving space for things to happen that I didn't expect to happen, but are perfect for the moment and the story anyway. At least, that's the plan.
But yeah, I figure out a lot of things while writing, which is handy, if difficult to predict. So it seems to have been working well for me to have the outline and then figure out the rest as I go along. Granted, I say that now, when I've been procrastinating for days because one of my characters just asked another a question, and I don't know what that other character is going to say. Rarr.
-- They make me a LOT jealous.
Anyway, I discovered that it isn't so much "the middle" I fear as the between times between plot-points.
-- Oh yeah, those can be pretty damned scary too!
So this time, I'm outlining the living daylights out of my story before writing it. ...enough so I know what should happen in each chapter while leaving space for things to happen that I didn't expect to happen, but are perfect for the moment and the story anyway. At least, that's the plan.
That's EXACTLY how I do it!
I think trying to write a coherent book like that would actually kill me.
-- I do it the same way Edgar Allen Poe does it --- I plan it out within an inch of it's life, then put the plans aside and write vaguely along those lines (from memory) until I get to where I wanted to end up. *grin*
As long as I know the end and the central climactic scene, I can finish it.
(Huge pet peeve of mine: people who say they can't write outlines because if they have an outline then they "have" to stick to it, and then that screws up their writing. )
(Huge pet peeve of mine: people who say they can't write outlines because if they have an outline then they "have" to stick to it, and then that screws up their writing.
Gods, that's a peeve of mine too! It's obviously an excuse to cover the fact that they're just too damned Lazy to write one.
I think it's also a handy excuse for why their stories and essays never work out well...
-- I think you're Right.
Admitting immediate defeat is much easier than actually dredging up the courage to make an honest stab at writing well. Plus it gets you so much sympathy and attention.
Which is why people like me Don't argue with them. Less Competition at the publishers. They can HAVE the sympathy and attention. I'll take the Money, thank you very much. *grin*
-- Unfortunately, for them, just spitting whatever randomness happens to be in your head out onto the page Isn't the only way to write.
Ends? Easy, and fun to finally enjoy.
Starting? Not so easy but no where near as hard as the middle. T_T
I don't know why I"ve got so much trouble with them since I always start with a sequence of events sheet, but somehow the middle stll gets to me!