Anyone who has ever tried to write a story has been there: We know how to begin, and we know how to end, but… what about the middle?
I am currently struggling with this problem in my re-write of Marsip, the sequel to Aza. I’ve taken the lamest way to deal with the ‘middle problem’, which is to ignore it and work on a different novel*. I would suggest not following my bad example and saving the option of ignoring your story as a last resort.
Because there are many other ways forward.
Let’s start by understanding what the problem is. There are many different flavors of ‘middle problems’: the acrid tang of failure because we have absolutely no ideas; the salty, bland taste of boredom because we do have ideas– we just don’t feel like writing them because we would rather write the exciting climax; or the sickly-sweet garnish of self-doubt that none of our ideas for the middle are worthy enough of the beginning and end.
All these flavors lead to the same outcome: writer’s block. But don’t worry, there are some easy fixes.
The bland taste of boredom is probably the easiest to change. Contrary to popular belief, just because you read stories in order doesn’t mean they were written in order. Basically, don’t worry about the middle right now– skip straight to the climax. Write the bits that you want to write. You can fill in the gaps later. And don’t forget– the middle bit is where things get worse and worse until ‘all hell breaks loose’. Whether this is actual Hell or just an angry little sister, is up to you. If you think the middle bit is boring, then your readers will too.
If all you can taste is the acrid tang of failure, you have several choices: you can skip the middle and write the end (chances are that you’ll have more than one idea by the time you’re finished), or if you’d rather have more of a plan, then write a list of at least ten possible ideas for events that could happen in the middle of the story. It doesn’t matter what the ideas are or how ridiculous they may be– they’re just ideas. If you write enough of them, you’ll get at least one good one.
No one likes the sickly-sweet garnish of self-doubt, but it’s easy to serve yourself some by mistake. The easiest way to get rid of it is to remind yourself that you don’t have to write the perfect middle the first time. If the idea you picked doesn’t seem to fit your story, write a second middle. Write five if you want. And don’t let yourself decide that they suck until you actually understand what your ideas bring to the story. If you don’t fancy writing several long middles, at least write outlines listing all the plot points, pros, and cons that your ideas give.
No matter which problem you might be facing, don’t forget that your story doesn’t have to be perfect the first time through. You can re-write, cut out, and add-in to your heart’s content before even thinking about calling it done. Stories don’t just leap gracefully into this world perfectly formed– they thud into it like a lump of shapeless clay. Most importantly, they’ve run into you, so make the most of sculpting them!
Good luck, and don’t give up.
*Although, now that I’ve thought about it… Marsip, here I come!
The idea for this ‘middle problem’ post actually came from one of my friends. If you have any writing questions you’d like answered, contact me and I will do my best to come up with ideas for a blog post.