Is Your Middle a Muddle?

We all know that stories should have a beginning, a middle and an end. We write the beginning bursting with enthusiasm, we know roughly how we want the story to end, but now our writing energy has gradually seeped away. We have arrived at the Middle. All we have in our head is a complete muddle and on paper – either nothing at all, or writing that reflects our muddled thinking. 

At this stage it is very easy to get discouraged: the finishing posts seem such a long way off, especially if we are writing a novel, our legs are tired after their initial spurt, and now we are getting hopelessly bogged down in the mud and long grass and uncertain whether we are following the right track after all.  We may be surrounded by other possible pathways and fear they may lead us nowhere. 

So here are some suggestions to help make that track firm under your feet again, all the way to the finishing line (with perhaps some stops for refreshment, if a brilliant new plot idea comes to you en route).

  1. First of all, don’t panic. This is very important: it’s so easy to lose confidence. Banish any wailing voices prophesising doom. Writers always have these and after a while you learn to ignore them.
  2. If you have the time, put your story away for a while. Odd things happen when you do this and sometimes problems are solved subconsciously. If you can’t, try to relax. A second wind will come. Many published writers worry when they reach the middle of their stories, including me. You are not alone!
  3. Write a brief summary or synopsis of what has happened so far in your story. This is for your own reference. No one else is going to see it. It’s really to get your thoughts straight. If you know anything about the ending, it might be helpful to put that down too, even if it’s only that the main character eventually wins through.
  4. Now is the time to pause and think about what motivates your characters. Often we have difficulties writing the middle of a story because we haven’t thought enough about this. It’s really important because the characters’ motivations are what moves the plot along.
  5. So…what is your main character’s (your protagonist’s) goal or problem? Who (the antagonist) or what are they up against?

    Make notes.

  6. What does the antagonist want? What is their goal?

    Make notes.

  7. Antagonists can propel the action just as much as protagonists. Your protagonist will react and so the story will continue. Or perhaps the protagonist’s actions bring him/her into confrontation with the antagonist. These confrontations should escalate until the climax.
  8. Once you are clear about motivation, it becomes much easier to make sense of your middle. It will give you plot ideas, in which your protagonist and antagonist come into conflict, leading up to the big showdown at the end. Jot down your ideas for future reference, even if you then don’t follow them exactly.

Last Word: The writer needs to make the track to the end of their story as clear and inevitable as possible for the reader. So take a deep breath and get going again!