In this week’s episode I talk about the difficulties of reaching the middle of creativity challenge at the exact same moment you reach the midpoint of the novel.
(Short story writers, stay with me because a lot of what I’m going to talk about applies to you too!)
You are not imagining things: this is hard. The middle of a novel is the notoriously hard, and the middle of the challenge is hard for different reasons.
The Midpoint of the Challenge
The midpoint of the challenge is tough because you’re tired. The novelty has worn off. You’ve started to question why are you ever decided to put in all this work. And you may feel that your story isn’t worth the effort.
Today I want you to take your character, and their desire and cripple them not once, but twice. Of course you get to reward them with a little win in the middle.
Give your character a goal, frustrate them, let them make some progress but let it come at a cost.
Think about Star Wars, the great story-outliner’s tool: Luke wants to get off this boring little planet but his aim is frustrated by obligations and lack of opportunity. When his family is murdered he finally acts. His next aim is to find and rescue the sexy princess (spoiler alert: Ew!). Problem: she’s on the most heavily defended, most technologically advanced ship in the fleet of the all-powerful empire. Somehow he succeeds. Yay! BUT, oh no, they sacrifice Obi-Wan, his mentor, at the same time. Now Luke has a new mission: overthrow the empire. Fail, Strive, Succeed but at a cost, pursue next part of his ‘want’. [Check out this Narrative Map of the Hero’s Journey]
Put your character in an impossible situation. Let him dig his way out only to fall into a new pit. Only this time he knows a bit more about himself and what it’ll take to climb out. (Friends? A rope? Strong hands?) Let the character use what they learned in the first part of the middle, to achieve what they need to do next.
It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom or drama. If you’re writing humor you can still do this. Frustration is funny. Even throwing in a moment of tragedy is acceptable in comic writing. In fact, if you’re making your reader laugh until 2/3 of the way through the story, they won’t even notice the knife in your hand until you’re sliding it between their ribs. Bam! Will that pack an emotional punch?! (Sitcoms do this from time to time. Aren’t you surprised to find yourself suddenly sobbing during your favorite 30 minute comedy?)
This week we’re going to explore ways to continue those stories and finish them off.
Create A Really Big Problem For Your Character
Take a character or situation you have written about before and write the story again. This time, bearing in mind your character’s need, do everything you can to derail that character’s progress. Make it big. Make it bad. Do things to your characters that make your reader gasp “How in the world is she ever going to get out of that?!”
Try not to worry too much about how you’re going to get your character out of trouble.
Do have an end in mind (i.e. know whether or not she’s going to get the guy and whether or not that is good news, given her character need).
Just for this story, don’t fret if you can’t transition neatly from ‘oh hell, it just all fell apart from her’ to ‘aha, and here’s how she reacts at the end’. Allow yourself to be sketchy. Don’t try to write deathless prose. Just hash out the events, concentrate on the emotions and worry about clean up later.
To engage your readers and hook them in from the first line, it’s a great idea to start in medias res, which means into the middle of things. So…
Kicking off the next few days’ Guest Prompters is StoryADay past participant Simon Kewin, who provided this great prompt. Thanks, Simon!
To engage your readers and hook them in from the first line, it’s a great idea to start in medias res, which means into the middle of things. So, instead of opening with long descriptions of background and prior events, jump straight into the action. This is immediately more engaging for the reader. The trick for the writer is then to drip-feed into the narrative information about prior situations the reader needs without it becoming too intrusive and, well, boring.
The following prompts are opening lines of stories that start in medias res. See where they – or something like them – lead you…
Nate plummetted to the ground, screaming Kate’s name as he fell.
Amanda Frobisher stood in front of the entire school, only to find no words would come out of her mouth.
Jamie stood in the wreckage of his ransacked house, trying to take it all in.
Max had one bullet left. He had to make it count.
“So, will you marry me or not?”
Simon is a UK writer and a previous StoryADayMay participant. He has two novels appearing this years: Engn, to be published by December House in July and Hedge Witch, to be published by Morrigan Books on Hallowe’en. He can be found at http://simonkewin.co.uk