Murky Middles


I’ve been revisiting some older stories and working on finishing them lately, and it’s reminded me of how hard middles can be sometimes.  Not quite as had as beginnings for me personally, but still plenty hard.  (For context, I always have to both reposition and rewrite the beginning.  It’s a thing I’ve come to accept about my writing process.)

I used to wonder if plotting and other planning would make the middle easier.  Is it something I struggle with because I’m flying by the seat of my pants as I write, or is it something a lot of writers struggle with, even when they plan?  Do the plotters just struggle with it during outlining instead of drafting?  The more I talk to other writers, the more I think it depends on both the writer and the story.

Some writers have the plotting process down to an art form and they can plot out a middle as easily as a beginning or end.  Some discovery writers can blast through a draft and race through the middle with no problem at all.  The rest of us struggle with that murky middle whether we plot or pants.

Sometimes, I just don’t know what to do to get my characters moving from the beginning to the end.  Sometimes I get lost in character interactions and lose the thread of the plot.  There are plenty of ways to get lost in the middle of a story.  I haven’t put a lot of thought into strategies for working through the middle, so if you have any, I’d love to hear them.

I don’t always struggle with middles.  When I was drafting Strong Fort Spathí, the middle was a breeze.  I knew exactly what I needed to happen to get me to the end point.  Books two and three have been a completely different story.  Book two was almost nothing but murky middle for a while (as well as way too much extra beginning, but that I was at least expecting).  Book two is shaping up much better these days (after the second complete redrafting) and book three is at least in progress, but I’m struggling with that one on the transition from the middle to the end.

I will admit to struggling less with middles when I’m writing fanfiction than I do when I’m writing my own original pieces.  I think it’s because I can rely on the convention of the canon books, or because I don’t mind so much if the plotting is circuitous or unwieldy in a fanfic.  I’m just practicing and playing with ideas in fanfic, so I’m slightly less of a perfectionist.  (I’m still a perfectionist, don’t get me wrong, it’s just less than with my original works.)

The lack of pressure to get it perfect, or even right, in a fanfiction gives me the freedom to worry less about how murky my middle is.  Readers are a bit more willing to follow a tangent to have more time with the characters in that space.  Or maybe I’m selling myself short and they’d be perfectly happy to follow me off on a tangent for more time with my original characters too.  You never know.  Without much feedback from the wider audience who has acquired my first book, it’s hard to know for sure.

Looking back at this post, it feels a bit like a rambling, murky middle all its own.  We’ll call that a feature, rather than a bug.  I wish everyone luck with their middles, be they murky or not.