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05/28/2014 12:52 pm ET

Story Writing From Start To Finish: Don't Get Lost In The Middle

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It’s every driver’s road trip nightmare. (We know, this is supposed to be about writing. Stay with us.) You’re trying to get from point A to point B, but somewhere in the middle you take a wrong turn and end up hopelessly lost.

Similarly, writers can lose their way. You have a great beginning for your story, an unforgettable ending—but somewhere in the middle you start to wander and eventually you lose your direction.

How To Successfully Navigate From Beginning To End

Add tension. To keep your story moving in the right direction, add conflict. If a character’s journey is too easy, readers will lose interest. So amp it up a little. Complicate things. The middle of the story is where an author can play with the plot by adding obstacles. Following your characters as they deal with these story line roadblocks will offer readers a deeper understanding of what makes your characters tick.

Does your protagonist dive into romance or shy away from it? Does he sit morosely in the corner of a bar, drinking himself into oblivion when betrayed by his best friend, or is there an angry confrontation? If an unexpected circumstance led your narrator to stray from her strict moral beliefs, will she immediately return to the straight and narrow path, or continue taking ethical shortcuts? The level of tension may wax and wane, but it should always drive your story forward.

Include unexpected twists and turns. So your story seems a little slow, and readers are starting to yawn and stare out the window? Kill the narrator! Introduce a new villain! Add scads of ardor! Ninjas! Just remember that any twist must fit organically within the context of your overarching plot. Keep in mind the parameters of your characters’ conduct and the eventual climax and resolution of your story. Your goal is to add to the plot while tightening it where necessary, not to make an already meandering midsection become even harder to follow.

Give characters some downtime. Adding action and surprises is good -- but sometimes so is taking it down a notch. Having your characters relax and take a breather can be just as beneficial to your story as dragging them into battle. What do your characters do in their spare time? What does this reveal about their true nature? Aside from providing insights into your characters’... well... character, having a break in the action lets your reader mentally recharge and prepare for what comes next.

Use these narrative GPS points to keep your story on track and your readers engaged, interested, and turning the pages. Otherwise, your characters will be headed the wrong way, your readers will be lost, and you’ll be spending too much time recalculating your plot.

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