There are lots of reasons why writers get to a certain point in their novel and then hit a brick wall. They seem unable to proceed, as though stuck with nowhere to go, nothing to write or nothing to say.
Some say this is a symptom of writer’s block, but any blockage lies with the writer, not the blank page, so more often than not, the gradual realisation that that the book is going nowhere is known as a mid-story crisis. The ‘crisis’ in question can encompass all manner of things, so we’ll take a look at the main reasons, why they happen and ways writers can recognise them and combat them.
The good news that most writers have suffered the ‘mid story crisis’ at some point in their writing careers, so it’s not uncommon.
Every writer starts their novel out with enthusiasm and fire, but then halfway through the process, things become sluggish, writing becomes harder and eventually the writing grinds to a halt. They struggle to understand why this happens, particularly when they have all the ingredients of a great story - a tight plot, interesting and plausible characters and plenty of conflict. But the problem is rarely anything to do with these.
The reasons that writing sags halfway through a novel are more complex and every writer should learn to recognise the symptoms:-
1. What actually goes in the middle?
2. The story has run out of steam
3. The characters have nothing interesting to say
4. There are no new ideas – the story struggles on what happens next
5. The story meanders
It’s an obvious question, but it’s surprising just how many writers ask this. What goes in the middle, what should I write? Well, the heart of your story, that’s what.
We tend to divide a novel into the sections (they’re not acts, since you’re not writing a play, and it shouldn’t be confused for one). There is a beginning, middle and an end. The beginning is the anchor for the story – it must start at the heart of the action, introduce your protagonist and their dilemma and it must grab the reader.
The middle is where the story settles in and establishes other characters, provides information, subplots evolve, it explores the themes in the story, it creates different conflicts, it creates obstacles for the main character to overcome, but more importantly, it sets up how the ending will unfold.
The ending, your last section, is where subplots and plot twists are resolved, where revelations may occur and the main character finally attains his or her goal, with a satisfactory conclusion.
It becomes clear why some writers struggle with the middle section – it has more going on than the beginning or the ending put together. It’s where the important action takes place, and often the problem of what should make up that middle section manifests because the writer hasn’t bothered to outline anything or plan what might happen during the story.
This is why they struggle to write or maintain the middle section.
This is also a predominant reason why the story can run out of steam as it emerges from the excitable beginning section. The saggy middle happens because of one overwhelming fact – the writer hasn’t bothered to plan the novel. Writers who write by the seat of their pants don’t realise that the result is a headache-inducing mess – they never see that it’s a mess, and rarely admit they’re wrong about it, but lack of planning always lead to weak story structure and an uphill struggle to make it all fit together and make sense, (which leads to the problem of forced storytelling).
How do you rectify this major problem? Before you even write a word of the story, do a brief plan or chapter outline of likely events; create a rough guide from which to work. Most writers get the beginning part of the novel right, but often struggle with the middle and the end. That’s because they haven’t thought the story through.
A novel is a complex structure, so to write it without any thought to how it will evolve is just foolish.
What about when characters run out of stuff to say? It’s not just the characterisation that suffers; it also means the story isn’t moving forward, since character dialogue does just this, and if your story isn’t moving forward, then the story has failed.
But why do characters run out of things to say? Again, it’s all to do with planning at the beginning. A rough guide helps the writer navigate through the story, from chapter to chapter, scene to scene, with enough going on to give the characters plenty to say – that is, plenty of pertinent things. If they have plenty to do, they will have plenty to say.
When characters start talking about the mundane or the kind of things that have nothing to do with the story, it’s because there is no further story for them to tell – if no more events and incidents happen, then there is nothing for them to talk about.
If you plan your novel in advance, however, then you’ll plot those incidents and events, and you’ll do so on an escalating basis. You’ll also have ideas for emerging subplots, so characters will have lots to say because there will be plenty of conflict, emotion and tensions. And at the same time, the story will move forward, giving the reader the impetus to keep reading, to want to find out what happens next.
In Part 2 we’ll look at three more reasons for the cause of a mid-story crisis – lack of ideas, a meandering story and the use of padding, and ways to avoid them.
Next Week: How to Avoid Mid a Story Crisis – Part 2