Sunday, January 27, 2013

Getting Stuck in the Middle

Here's what can happen:

You come up with a great idea for a novel: the main characters are clear in your mind, you've created the situation you'll place them in, and you have a general idea of what the big events in the story are going to be. You also know exactly where your characters will end up.

In other words, you've created the story arc. And it's beautiful! You can't wait to put it down on paper (or computer screen.)

You spend a lot of time figuring out the opening:
  • Where in the story should you begin?
  • Whose point-of-view will you use?
  • How much (or little) should your opening scene reveal?
Your first chapter almost writes itself. Of course, you'll polish it later, give it more punch to pull the reader in. But, basically, you've got it.

You're launched.

You eagerly continue. In chapters two, three, four and five you develop your plot, introduce the rest of your main characters, introduce some minor characters. You've hurled at least one, if not two, of your Big Events at your characters and they have responded according to plan.

So now you've made it part way down the track and everything's good.

But here's the problem: since your Big Events are the triggers for significant action or change for your characters, you can't have too many of them or the story becomes chaotic. I would guess the number would be a minimum of two (one to start the action; the other to create the resolution), and a maximum of five.

The main plot (Anna's story) of Anna Karenina, for example has four main events:
  1.  Anna falls in love with Vronsky.
  2. Anna gives up her world to live with Vronsky.
  3. Anna falls into disillusion and despair.
  4. Anna commits suicide.
But there are many minor events that carry the story along while the characters are preparing to experience the Big Events. You could call this the connective tissue moving Anna from Point 1 to Point 2 to Point 3 to Point 4.

But creating all the minor events that constitute the connective tissue can be tricky. Why? Because


and so many interesting, compelling, and significant twists and turns occur to you as you write! You have to pursue them don't you?

What if Anna ran into an old flame from before her marriage and flirted with him when she was in despair over Vronsky? That event might or might not destroy the whole story arc. It could be a one-time event, in which case no harm is done to your plot. Or it could lead to a whole change of direction if either Anna or the flame pursue the flirtation.

At the very least it would change Anna's character from a virtuous woman overwhelmed by passion to a woman willing to flirt indiscriminately.

And you'd have to change everything, if only slightly, to accommodate this new version of Anna.

The thing is, minor events may look perfect for your purpose as you begin to write them. Only later do you realize they have taken you off course. So now you are halfway through your novel, and realize you're off in a completely new direction. What do you do?

You feel confused. Overwhelmed. Frustrated.


It is at this point that many a writer has abandoned a project thinking they've botched it

Here's the good news: you're not really stuck. You have met an opportunity for your story to grow. Your story has blossomed under your fingers, has become bigger, more complex, more important than you realized it could.

You could retrace your route and delete the elements of your story that have pulled you in the wrong direction. But


Maybe it intrigues you more than your original idea.
  • It opens new possibilities for your characters to pursue.
  • It enriches and deepens your story.
  • It makes your characters more interesting.
  • It introduces themes that are important to you.
But there is a downside to going down the new path: you don't know where it leads. Your main events have to change, if only slightly, and you no longer know for sure how your story will end. You're flying blind. 

Only you can decide whether to go back to your original story arc, or blaze a new trail to a destination that is no longer clear to you. But either way, you have to do a major revision.

 Maybe you have to rewrite that wonderful opening chapter you labored over. Maybe you have to excise your new favorite character or subplot. Maybe you have to carefully edit two hundred pages of manuscript to accommodate your new vision.


Now is your chance to write something wonderful


  1. Great post!

    I've heard of characters taking the author where 'they' wanted to go, creating an entirely different story than the writer intended. Definitely would be frustrating - and exciting.

  2. Lee if I was a writer,This post would definately open my eyes to creating something good.It seems like a road map to a difficult location, and someone has underline the rights and lefts for you.Amazing,simply amazing

  3. I've been on the same chapter for a long time because I don't know what to write, the minor events. But this is because I'm not a writer, but this a great post.

  4. Glad to get to know you on She Writes-- now I can follow your blog too! Thanks, Julie

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