How to Escape Your Story's Muddy Middle
You will often find me in that place, surrounded by empty coffee cups and crumbs of whatever snack was supposed to give me energy to power on to the next sentence I need to write. I confess I have many stories where the first three chapters are beautifully polished for what could be an amazing book... if only I could write the rest of it.
When I do manage to finish a story, I have to go through a process of reminding myself of a method that works for me: Take your unsuspecting character and throw them off a cliff. (Not usually literally, though I did do that in one book.) Rather, think of all things that could cause them a detour or a roadblock to their ultimate goal. Usually there is one major obstacle to overcoming their desire which you know going into beginning the story.
In Gone by Nightfall, the Russian Revolution is the overwhelming problem the main characters, Charlotte and Dmitri, have to face. But the simple decision for them of deciding to go or stay is complicated by many other problems that arise, and that is what makes the actual story itself.
I keep a list of problems that act as roadblocks or detours for my characters that I could use in any of my stories. The details will change depending on the story, but it helps me to ponder the options if I have a list to work from. So here it is roughly grouped from minor to extreme:
- Losing something
- Finding something
- Secrets kept
- Secrets told
- Someone leaving unexpectedly
- Someone arriving unexpectedly
- Illness, either physical or mental
- Monsters (people monsters or depending on the story, supernatural monsters)
- Political Situations
- Natural Disasters
It’s a balance to find the right number of detours or roadblocks for any story, and it partly depends on the plot, the setting and length you want, but try out this list if you are stuck and you may just find the words flowing again.