How to Avoid Mid a Story Crisis – Part 2

In part 1 we looked at three of the various ways a story can sag in the middle, what is commonly referred to as the ‘mid story crisis’, things like running out of steam, not knowing what goes in the middle section and the characters running out of things to say to move the story forward, so in this concluding part we’ll take a look at some more reasons and the ways that writers can avoid these common problems.
If you find that your story struggles with what to do next, this is usually because you have run out of ideas – the kind of ideas that should push the story forward. Many stories tend to start off with plenty of momentum and fire, but then they start to trundle after ten or eleven chapters and eventually they become a chore because the zest of those first ten or eleven chapters has worn off.
And the magic reason why? The writer hasn’t planned anything. They haven’t outlined chapters or thought through scene scenarios, nor do they truly know what the main character’s goal actually is. If a writer can’t be bothered to outline the novel – a complex piece of work – there is no point trying to ‘wing’ it.
It doesn’t work.
Another common problem is when the story begins to wander off on a tangent or it meanders aimlessly so far from the plot that it bears no relation to the actual story or has little connection with the characters. This kind of problem isn’t always noticeable straightaway and only becomes apparent when you do a read through once the novel is complete.
It’s common for writers to drift off course – we’ve all done it, but sometimes our focus shifts from one thing to another, or a subplot or thread takes our attention away from the main plot and we don’t realise we’ve drifted from the original story path. The good thing is that during the read through, the problem will become very apparent and it’s easily corrected with re-writing.
This problem happens because there has been no planning as to where the story might go and how it might get there. This is why, unfortunately, a lot of novels are rubbish – the writer has simply gone with the flow in the hope that all those tangent strands kind of knit together and make sense by the end. That rarely works.
Always know where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. It will save a lot of time editing and re-writing.
Another classic symptom of a sagging middle is padding. Huge wads of it. This is when the writer ‘pads’ out the story with all sorts of extraneous stuff in order push up the word count and inch towards the ending, without the need to form ideas or be creative. In reality, the padding isn’t pertinent to the story, it’s just unnecessary wordage when ideas and creativity – and everything else – is lacking, and readers won’t thank you for it.
Unfortunately, padding is a huge problem and a serious symptom of desperation in the face of no fresh ideas, a lack of planning, not knowing where the story should go, or being unsure of what to do with the characters. It’s like trying to put together a broken teapot – nothing quite fits exactly as it should.
If you start padding the story with the superfluous, then you know there is a major problem. To correct it you will have to go back through the work to identify the problem areas – and examine why you’ve used padding – then you need to get rid of it. You may end up doing more writing in the end to compensate for the padding.
More experienced writers will recognise when they’re padding and will do something about it before it gets out of hand, however, the best way to avoid all these problems and avoid the mid story crisis is to plan, plan, plan.
Before you even start to write, know exactly what the story is about and whose story it is. Know why the story is taking place, and make sure that the main character has a clear goal to achieve, plenty of dilemmas to face and problems to solve. You have to know how their journey begins and how it might end.
You must know roughly what happens at each stage of the novel, and what subplots and themes there might be, rather than trying to write with virtually no ideas or clear vision  in mind, because this type of writing simply doesn’t work.
Of course, there are no golden rules in this instance and writers can do as they please, but if a writer wants to avoid that mid-story crisis – and the problems associated with it – then the best way to produce a quality, solid piece of work is to plan and plot in advance.
It’s one of the smartest things any writer can do.

Next week: The art of captivating first lines


  1. An interesting article. The problem I see is that you're presenting your opinion as fact. There are plenty of "pantsers" out there who create quality work. If it doesn't fit your style, that's fine. But to lump everyone else into the weak writing camp is not only invalid but insulting to them.

  2. Firstly, the article does not represent my opinion, since opinions are neither right or wrong, however the writing problems I've presented have some basis in truth, since as an editor and someone who has worked in publishing, I've seen them time and again. They're very common, especially in new writers.

    To date, I have not yet seen a panster create quality work. Anyone who does would be a genius. Again, I can only go on 30+ years writing, editing and teaching this subject, as well as knowing many editors, writers and agents who have been in the business even longer, who all say the same - plan first, write later. My job here is to give the best advice for new writers to get ahead.

    There are no insults intended, but your defensive tone suggests you might lean towards this style of writing, which is fine - as I said in the article, there is no right or wrong; the writer can do as he pleases.

  3. I'm not entirely in favor of either. I've worked both ways, depending on the situation. But when you say someone "CAN'T BE BOTHERED" to do it your way, that pretty much belittles anyone who doesn't agree with you.

    As for successful pantsers, I'd consider Thomas Wolfe a prime example. Good writing is more a function of excellent editing than rigid outlining.

    1. Shamrock, you are still missing the point. It's not about MY way. It's about the most efficient way to avoid such writing problems. How I do things doesn't come into it.

      Also, you've taken the 'Cant be bothered' comment out of context. It refers to a writer’s inability to outline – the very thing that saves themselves the headache of problems further down the track. So yes, if they can't be bothered, they shouldn't try to wing it.

      As for William Wolfe, I am not a fan of his work. But like all authors, he had an good editor who had to sit there and edit Wolfe's overly long rambling to make it digestible.

      Good writing, by the way, is borne of raw talent, skill and creativity. Editing simply makes it all shine.

  4. Reading this article with attention i agree with you and you told correctly that If we find our story struggles with what to do next, this is usually because us have run out of ideas.

  5. To correct it you will have to go back through the work to identify the problem areas and examine why you’ve used padding then you need to get rid of it.

  6. You do make an excellent point. Being positive without any concrete action is wishful thinking.


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