The middle of your story is hard. There's a reason people speak of the second act doldrums.
As technically difficult as beginnings are, in some ways they’re much easier. Beginnings have enthusiasm and excitement attached to them.
And endings, assuming we get that far, are much easier too. We can see the end in sight, our goal is nearly in reach, it’s easy to keep going for it.
But middles are hard. (And by middles I’m talking about maybe the middle 50-60% of the project! That is, 10-20% is the fun exciting beginning, and 10-20% is the rewarding ending, leaving a lot of middle to fill.)
When you’re in the middle of your project, the initial enthusiasm and excitement are gone, so they can’t sustain you. And the end is nowhere near, so that can’t sustain you either. All we’re left with is the slog, the hard work.
As I share in the page on how to plot a novel, writers are either Outliners (who have a plan) or Wingers (who don’t).
Both Outliners and Wingers can have difficulties with middles, although the exact difficulties are different.
Wingers can find that they run out of ideas. They can find themselves wandering around in the desert, totally lost, with no clue what to do next.
Outliners at least have a road map - their problem is that they can run out of enthusiasm. There’s no novelty to the story any more since they know exactly what's going to happen.
If you’re an Outliner, ask yourself if the next step in the plot is really the best possible one. (Although you’ve outlined, it’s important still to be flexible. The outline should be a guide, not a tourniquet.). You could brainstorm (using the ideas below) other ideas, and if you come up with better ones, use those. These changes might mean reworking the whole outline, but perhaps that might be okay, for a better story.
If, after brainstorming, you still like your first ideas better, then it’s just a problem with inertia. Use EFT to get over the hump, again as described below.
Wingers (and Outliners who want to), could try these suggestions:
- As per Raymond Chandler’s advice: When you’re stuck, bring on a man with a gun. Since Chandler wrote the Philip Marlowe Private Eye stories, he probably meant that literally. A man with a gun mightn’t suit your story (although it’d certainly shake it up!).But it’s good advice on a broader level: make something interesting happen.
Brainstorm what could happen next (using EFT or freewriting or mindmapping). Make it something that’ll have repercussions for your characters. If it’s the postman arriving, let the letter be something important, not just the electricity bill!
This technique could bring you into all sorts of wonderful strands for your story.
(Of course, the Outliners would mutter darkly that those strands will probably entrap you, and you’ll never get out. That’s the risk you take!)
- Ask yourself: What if … and end that sentence as many ways as possible. As in all brainstorming, don’t limit yourself, no matter how mad the idea sounds. No, you won’t really use ‘Aliens land’ in contemporary fiction, but write it down anyway. It could inspire you further. What if they weren't real aliens, but illegal aliens turn up at the door?
- Ask yourself: What’s the worst possible thing that could happen to my character now?, and have that happen! It’s not for nothing that one definition of being a writer is somebody who makes up characters and then tortures them.
- Freewrite. Just write, and keep writing. No matter what, don’t let your pen stop moving. Write (say): I don’t know what happens next. Jane needs to find her way out of the locked room, but I’ve no idea how she’ll do that. I mean, I’ve absolutely no idea, and there’s no way I’ll think of something. It’s just impossible. I wish I hadn’t put her in the locked room in the first place. Maybe she could dig her way out. But that’s silly …Keep going with this - after a while your subconscious will conjure up a gem or two. It’s amazing when it happens, and great fun.
- Use EFT. Full instructions are given here, but basically it’s about tapping on acupuncture points. Follow the instructions as you say statements like: I don’t know what happens next - I have no idea how Jane will get out of the locked room - it seems impossible for her to do that - I choose to find the most amazing solution - but I don’t know what it is yet …
- Use Rory's Story Cubes to generate infinite ideas.
- For both Outliners and Wingers, sometimes the problem is just fatigue and doubt. In both of those cases, check out EFT - it’ll get you sorted in no time.
Although this page is about Act II, in story structure there is an actual midpoint moment, around which the rest of the story pivots. Having a good midpoint can be a terrific True North to focus your writing.
These books share good information on the midpoint. Just click on each book's image to be brought to its page in your local Amazon store.
Rory's Story Cubes for infinite inspiration
Also, what has helped me is to simply accept that the middle is hard, and to carry on regardless. I think the problem is that we don’t accept that, so we’re fighting both the drudgery of the work, AND our resistance to that fact. At some level we’re saying, It shouldn’t be like this. Where’s the excitement gone? I resent doing this even though there’s no pleasure in it for me right now.
And fighting those two things is too much.
Whereas if we just accept that middles are hard, and boring and drudgery to some extent, and carry on regardless - that way lies success.
Accept the fact without fighting it, that you don’t want to do the work today - and do it anyway. Don’t try to make yourself want to do it, that’s a hurdle too far. But like the ad says, “Just do it”.
It’s a subtle thing, but it IS much easier to do something if you stop resenting it, or rather if you accept the fact that you resent it.