For most writers, starting a new story is exciting! It’s exhilarating. It’s fun. Our creative juices flow. Our fingers skip over the keyboard. In the beginning, the ideas are fresh and the process invigorating. The ending is great too. Hopefully we’ve given our characters resolution, our readers satisfaction. We’ve woven the threads of our story into a cohesive tapestry. As the finish line approaches, we dream about popping that bottle of champagne in celebration.
But the middle… well, sometimes we get stuck in the middle.
The middle is often where the process drags, where the writing feels stale, where we might even think we’ve lost the plot. It’s the place where many writers give up. Don’t give up! We’ve all been stuck in the middle at some point in our writing life, and the only way to the other side is straight through! Here are some tips that might help:
Write a scene that excites you, even if it’s out of order.
Sometimes we get so bogged down in the middle that our writing feels dull and uninspired. We may be looking forward to an exciting scene we’ve got planned in a few chapters. Write it now! If jumping to another spot in the narrative brings back the writing spark for you, go ahead. Even if you end up editing that scene later, or removing it altogether, if it helps you with your creative flow, do it.
Cause more trouble for your characters.
Write your characters into corners and see how they extricate themselves. Create misunderstandings. Through conflict, our characters reveal themselves, and they grow and evolve. Give them these opportunities.
Develop the subplots.
Among other things, subplots can twist the action, solve a problem or create more problems, and provide information for your characters. Subplots serve to move the action forward and add layers to the main plot. In one of my books, the resistance fighters are hiding out in an abandoned underground bunker, trying to survive the winter. They’re starving and the only way to feed their people is to steal food from the enemy. A mission is launched. They’re successful, but unintended consequences follow. Inside the enemy settlement, the brutal dictator rounds up suspected resistance sympathizers and begins executing them. Outmanned and outgunned, the resistance fighters have to respond anyway. This subplot not only created an exciting action sequence in the middle of a slow moving section of the story, it also pushed the main plot forward.
Build the minor characters.
Every story has a cast of supporting actors. The middle is where you can offer them space on the stage. Flesh them out. Develop their voice. What are their motives independent of the main characters? How do they complicate the plot or help to move it forward? Readers should care about your minor characters, and these characters should have enough color and life to add depth to the story.
Remember you’ll get to edit.
Take a few risks in the middle. If a sub-plot turns out to be a dead-end, you can cut it. When your draft is finished, you can decide which parts don’t serve the story well and edit them out. You can move things around and focus on pacing. You can finesse the language. You can add here, delete here. When working on the middle, just keep writing. There will be time later to turn the framework into a finished product.
The beginning sets things up, and the ending pulls everything together, but the middle provides the apple for your pie, the peanut butter and jelly for your sandwich. Okay, I may need to get a snack. But seriously, think about the middle as the place where all the good stuff happens, where most of the story unfolds. So, toss in the ingredients and keep cooking!