Filling in the Middle

by Layne Tanner
(Henniker, NH)

Question: I have a story idea with three MC's, and I know how it starts out, and I know how it ends. However, I cannot find any conflicts that make sense to lead the characters from the beginning I have chosen to the end I would like to achieve. I am having a lot of trouble since most of it is a voyage, but even aside from that the subplots and main points of the plot are missing. I have no idea how to get my characters from point a to point b. I know the start and end, but I've got nothing for in between! How can I brainstorm those events?

Answer: First, have you checked out the articles on the "Write a Novel" tab? Also the article on "Sagging Middle Syndrome," under "Fiction Tips"?

Assuming you already have, here are some thoughts...

First, you say you know how you want the story to end. How do your main characters want it to end? Do you know what they are hoping/trying to achieve? What would satisfy them?

Obviously, if they have everything they want at the start, there's no story.

So let's assume one of your characters or perhaps all of them wants something - either to fix a problem or achieve something. But something stands in his/her way, which is why the want is unsatisfied at the start.

Now, apply the 8 elements of plot.

What would be the consequence if the goal isn't achieved?

What is required for the goal to be achieved? What must the characters do?

What happens that suggests it might not be achieved?

What conditions make the goal hard to achieve?

What must the MC get in order to achieve the goal?

What costs or dividends might occur along the way?

List as many ideas as you can.

What does the main character or characters do at the climax that determines once and for all whether or not the goal will be achieved and what the ending will look like?

Since you have several main characters, they will all have personal goals in addition to the overall story goal.

Brainstorming these questions should give you a lot of material.

Consider character functions too. Who doesn't want the goal achieved? (Maybe it's not a "who" but a "what" that is the source of the conflict.) Who wants to help? Who wants to hinder? Who supports? Who opposes? Who stays focused? Who looks at the big picture? Who takes a logical approach? Who goes on gut feeling? And how will you illustrate all this?

That's a lot of activity with which to flesh out the story.

Obviously, the first part of your story will revolve around the events that propel your characters to embark on their pursuit of their goals. The second part will be about the complications, the problems and challenges they encounter along the way that make the goal look less likely to be achieved. The third part is the climax, where they are forced to do something that determines the outcome, and the fourth part is where we see the consequences, the outcome, of their efforts.

That's a lot to think about, and it will take you a little time to work out. But once you have settled on the major events you can put them in order leading up to the climax. That will give you a roadmap to follow.

Comments for Filling in the Middle

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Jul 23, 2011
by: Anonymous

Thank you so much, this was a very helpful thing to read, and I understand better what I should do.

Aug 02, 2011
Bubble charts sometime work
by: Anonymous

Sometimes when I get stuck I just write my question I want answered in a circle. For example:
"Why does Mary want a pet cat?"
Then I brainstorm possible reasons:
Mabey she's an only chlld and wants a freind
Mabey her freinds all have one and she wants to fit in.
Mabey she's a witch
You get the idea. Choose the one you like the best (or makes the most sense) and then expand on that; see how far you can go. The one that is the most developed should be the best choice

May 22, 2012
I had the same problem too
by: Lux

I started with the same problem you have now, not knowing what the middle should contain. I changed the plot in the middle about 3 times. I've also rewritten the entire middle section about twice now.
I think it's so true it's all about a build up of tension leading up to the end.

I think the key is to experiment and not be afraid to just write the middle. It's important to accept that you've got to rewrite eventually. Before, I used to hate the thought of rewriting so I wanted to plot/plan everything perfectly before ideally doing the best first draft ever.

I've rewritten chunks of my novel 3 times now. It's like writing music. Improvise, improvise, improvise. Then take all the good parts. Edit, edit, edit.

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