If you’re like me, you really like writing and coming up with stories. Adventurous knights, brave space heroes, the averagely unique schoolkid, and wild settings all tickle your imagination every waking moment. If you’re also like me though, you also have a critical weakness: the middle of the story.
The middle in a story can often be a writer’s bane no matter their skill level. You can picture point A and point B clear as day, but somehow the line between them is hazy at the best of times. Even as you flesh that line out, there’s still often that point where you know something should happen but aren’t sure what that something is. So, what does one do when they find themselves in this situation? Despair and accept there’s no hope?
No. That’s a bit dramatic. Instead, I have some tips for you today to help you work through the middle of your story when you just aren’t sure what to do. Keep in mind that there are a bunch of methods you can try, and everyone has something different that works for them. These are just the personal techniques I use, and they’ve helped me out immensely over that middle story blue’s bump. Let’s sit back, put on those thinking caps, and dive in.
- Figure out what NEEDS to happen
Sometimes asking yourself what happens in the middle needs to be rephrased in your mind. Instead of thinking about the what, focus on what is needed for the story to flow properly, make logical sense, get characters to the right emotional state, etc. This can often lead to a lot of revelations in regards to creating the story.
Since I like to demonstrate with examples, let’s go with this one: Brothers Carl and Tod have their hometown destroyed by the evil king killer. The two then journey and collect the five mystical elements. This eventually culminates when the two fight the king killer and save the crowned prince from certain destruction.
In this above example, we know the beginning and the end well, but there’s a huge middle portion about collecting the mystical elements that we’re clueless about. This is where we start asking ourselves questions. Are the mystical elements guarded by something? Is the king killer sending minions to stop them? Are the mystical elements easy to find? This type of story really NEEDS the answer to these sorts of questions; if you don’t answer them, the reader will ask and become un-immersed from the story. Thus, by answering these questions we can slowly travel down a path that lets us determine scenarios that need to happen. For example, maybe the fifth element of Water is lost, so a scenario of Carl and Tod finding a map to it is needed. Fleshing out the story in this manner can help immensely.
In some cases, you need to go more abstract though. Maybe Carl is an optimistic go-getter at the beginning, but by the end he’s become jaded and cautious about life. Now, for the middle, you need to ask yourself what scenarios are needed to get him to this emotional state. Maybe he loses an arm, thus causing him lots of post-traumatic stress. Or maybe he’s just bombarded with continual failures in their attempts to save the crowned prince.
In the end, the point is that often the middle is simply a question of figuring out what you NEED. Remember, some of the point of the middle is to help make the endpoint make sense. If you find you have gaps where the end won’t make sense, that’s where you need begin your journey on filling out the middle with events.
- Brainstorm interesting scenarios for the characters in your story
This is where you get to be creative and explore your characters. Characters are essential for stories, and as their writer you have an unspoken responsibility to understand them. If you’re writing characters you don’t find interesting or really like, stop reading now and work on that first. The first sign of a bad story is when you yourself don’t like your own characters.
That being established and assuming you do love your characters, it’s often good to have a brainstorming session about scenarios you’d like to see them in. Maybe you have a knight character who you want to see find love and learn that fighting isn’t everything. Or, maybe you have a princess who has to suffer through almost being assassinated by her own father. This is a tip that has infinite possibilities. The goal is to just list down things you think you’d find interesting for your characters to experience. These are the scenarios you can utilize in your middle. If you find them interesting, other people might as well.
However, this tip does come with some advisory material. While you want to brainstorm a lot of ideas, you probably don’t want to use every single idea you came up with. Rather, after the brainstorm you should go through and pick and choose scenarios that you think will enhance the story. Maybe the princess assassination subplot makes her a more developed character, or maybe it adds some needed political intrigue. Either way, the point is it should enhance the story. If you use everything though, chances are you’re just going to have a convoluted mess that makes no sense. This is often the quickest way to make a dreaded mary-sue/gary-stu character. So, there is a point you must let go of some of your ideas for the sake of a decent story. It’s not easy, but being a bit pickier about scenarios you include ensures that readers don’t think you just went too wild.
- Write a first draft and then identify the weaknesses
For the last tip, this generally assumes you know at least a few things about the middle. In that case, the best course can often be just writing your story as is. Rather than focusing on what you don’t know, get down the things you do into your story format of choice. While it will be immensely tempting to stop writing when you hit the middle, don’t. Even if you write something you know is awful, keep going until you finish that story.
Now, if you’ve done that, two things should have happened ideally.
In the first matter, you should have naturally overcome your writer’s block with free-writing. This is something even I do sometimes if I’m unsure of the middle; I simply write and let the story flow where it may. Oftentimes, I have my best ideas while I’m in the process of writing, as flow is easier to come by when it’s fresh on your mind. It can often reveal where things need to go next in order to keep things organic. Thus, it becomes easy to paste over some of those story gaps with needed events. It can be a great way to also just get ideas flowing and onto paper, even if you cut them later.
In the second part of what should have happened though, is that you now have a piece where you can identify the weaknesses. Much like tip one, this goes back to figuring out what your story needs. However in this case, you have the story in front of you to judge for these story necessities. Additionally, with a “finished” piece you can also judge for what the story’s message is.
Say you have a message about working smart over working hard. Now that the story is finished, you may notice areas that lack in delivering this message. For instance, maybe your main character only shows two incidents in the middle where their cleverness worked more than their hours of work. Thus, it results in a lackluster message. Now, as you re-write the story, you know you can add more scenarios of this type to bolster the message.
Of course, this method also helps identify plot holes, logic failings, etc. What’s great, though, is that by fixing these plot holes and making them better, you usually wind up beefing up your middle naturally and giving it a clearer picture.
All in all, sometimes the best thing for the middle is to handle it more during the editing process. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about with this method, as many professional writers will near rewrite their story’s in consecutive drafts after the first. Remember, once written your story isn’t set in stone. You’re supposed to edit and tweak it, because that is the best way to make it a masterpiece.
In summary, these are just a few methods you can use to work through the middle of your stories. As I mentioned, there are definitely more ways than these, and finding which method works for you is usually the best course. However, I do hope these tips gave some ideas to help you along. Writing isn’t an exact science, but with perseverance you can gain the skills to be able to write even better.
Image: Courtesy of SofiLayla on Pixabay.