Then, without warning, it all comes to a halt. Your mind draws a blank. You start wondering why on earth you’re trying to write a novel? What were you thinking? You have no idea what happens next in your story.
You, my friend, are in the messy middle. Try these six tips to get out.
1. Make sure all characters are fully developed
All of them. Flat characters breed problematic plot lines. Fully developed characters have needs, desires, memories, fears, and activities that can inspire elements in your plot.
2. Try on a different point of view
Imagine looking at things from your antagonist’s point of view. If you were going to make that person the main character, what would they be doing? Too often, stories focus so much on the protagonist that the antagonist is quietly sitting in the background twiddling his thumbs waiting to show up on stage for the finale.
On occasion, I’ll see the opposite problem: a busy, interesting antagonist and an inactive, flat protagonist. In this case, it may be that your main character needs more development. Or it may be that you’ve miscast your story and the real hero is the one you keep writing about.
3. Develop your world
If your story takes place in the real world, this step involves fully developing the immediate world of your character. What does your character do on a day-to-day basis? What do they do at work? After work? At home? Radiate outward from your main character.
If, for example, your character works as a manager at a seaside resort, spend some time writing about the operation of that business both as it relates to your character, and how it functions independent of your character. Same with your character’s family. If your character is married, do you know how the spouse spends each day? The kids? What about your character’s extended family? What are relationships like with parents, siblings, cousins, and so on.
This is your character’s world.
If your story takes place in an invented world (think Lord of the Rings) or in our world with a twist (think Harry Potter) you have even more world building to do. A fully developed world will inform your plot. Consider how different people collide in this world. Is there a conflict you can use to your benefit? How might this affect your character?
4. Change directions
Instead of working from the beginning and trying to get to the end, try switching that up. Think about your ending and work backwards. Ask yourself, what happened right before this? And right before that?
5. Raise the stakes
You do know what the stakes are in your story, right? They should be high, externally and internally. If your story is stuck, look at your stakes. Even if you think they’re high enough, ask yourself, how could I raise the stakes even higher? Explore those ideas. You may be pleasantly surprised to discover a story with more zing.
6. Nuclear option
Do you like your story? Let’s say you’ve spent time developing a plot and it’s just not speaking to you anymore. You like this aspect of it and that character there, but this other part just doesn’t light your fire the same way or (worst of all) that part there is b.o.r.i.n.g.
Do this exercise. Pretend you’re going to take out everything you don’t like, keep only the fun parts, and start over. Try filling in the gaps in a way that excites you. Because, after all, if you’re not excited, your reader won’t be either.
As a final note…
I reject the notion of writer’s block. Assuming you’ve already tried working through it with the Butt-in-Chair-Hands-on-Keyboard approach, pick a method above and see what happens.
What tips do you have to get through the messy middle?