We Can’t Stop Here, This Is Plot Twist Country: Getting Past The Middle

Time to call roadside assistance.

Okay, you’ve made it this far: you’re in the middle of your project. Pause for a moment. High fives and congratulatory ass grabs all around.


You feel it: something is going wrong. You’re losing steam. You’re slowing down. Sweet Velociraptor Jesus, you’re losing interest.

Relax. You’ve just reached the Pit*. This is where creativity goes to die. This is where a lot of stories sink into the muck, never to be heard from again. If you look under your feet, you’ll see the bones of other writers. Here’s where they fell. Don’t be one of them.

The thing is, most advice about the rough patches in the middle of stories is about fixing something in the story. But that’s not always the problem. The problem, dear reader, is also you. You’ve lost confidence. And a writer without confidence gets lost very fucking quickly.

So, here they are, my best tips for staying motivated in the middle of a story when all you want to do is give up.

1) It Happens To A Lot Of Guys. It’s true. It does. If you need proof, have a look over here. That’s Neil Gaiman’s essay on the point of giving up. Those of you who can’t be arsed to click over, I’ll summarize: every book he’s written has been beset by this particular point, where nothing feels like it’s going right. If he can manage to get through it, so can you.

2) Re-Evaluate. Sometimes you’re not stuck, you’re just lost. Did you take a wrong plot turn a while back? Have you run out of road? Go back and have a look. Maybe the way you were supposed to go will be clearer now. Maybe you shouldn’t have gone straight through to Boringville; the left at the corner of Plot Twist Alley and Some Really Fucked Up Shit Boulevard is a better route.

3) Tinker With Your Brainmeats. We humans may be pretty good at stopping, but we are absolutely balls at figuring out why. But you are no longer just a human; you are a writer, and that means you don’t get the excuse of not figuring it out.
So, why are you tempted to give up? Are you bored? Do you not know what happens next? Do you need to spend more time with the characters to figure out what the hell they want so you can prevent them from getting it? Or is it just hard? If it’s the last one, then move on to the next item on this list.

4) Suck It Up. Expecting something nicer? Buddy, if you’re looking for hand-holding, then you are in the wrong fucking place. Here’s the bottom line: sometimes things feel like shit. Sometimes writing is hard. And it’s not even hard hard, like being a coal miner or a front-line soldier. It’s just kinda hard.

If you’re one of those people who is staring at the screen and sighing wistfully an awful lot, then maybe you should take half the time you’re devoting to complaining and do something else with it. Like writing. Complaining is not useful unless it leads to a solution. So, the next time you find yourself whining about how hard this is, try to think of a solution. Fix the problem and move on. Look at number one up there. This happens to everyone. It’s part of the deal. So either fix it or shut up, because the rest of us are dealing and we are getting real tired of your shit.

Now move on. Fight the Pit, or at least go down swinging.

*Also what my sister-in-law calls her home office. I haven’t checked it for bones, but I suppose there could be some.

9 thoughts on “We Can’t Stop Here, This Is Plot Twist Country: Getting Past The Middle

  1. I somehow feel the need to comment this, but then again… oh, well, alright then.
    It’s always when I get bored with a story that I know something is wrong. If I am bored, the reader will be bored. Slogging along… something needs to happen. I don’t mean a calamity, or a sudden twist, or an unbelievable coincidence, but, by gum, something. Time to write something I am interested in or care about particularly, I just have to see to it that I weave it in to the story. And I’ll go back a couple chapters to set it up too. It doesn’t always work, but usually it makes the story richer. And it definitely gets me involved again, and then ideas start sprouting.
    Sometimes I think those are the moments where you’re immersed in writing the story you have envisioned, but you’ve forgotten to let the story unfold. You’ve done too much outlining, or you are adhering too closely to your outline, for fear of losing your way… but that means confining yourself and your characters. I’ve written stuff where I suddenly realized: wait, this fits my outline, but that character would actually never fucking do that.
    This is one of the reasons I only do the barest of outlines, if at all. Bare bones; pack the bloody meat and the stringy tendons on as you go. But that’s just me.

    • See, I find that, when I get stuck story-wise, it’s often because I need to take a closer look at the characters, not the plot. I need to tweak things or reinvent things to be more in line with who they’ve become as I write because I didn’t know who they were at first. My outlines are pretty extensive–down to scene level in most cases–but I do change them quite a bit as I go.

  2. Hey, Knuckles. I do so love your posts. The style is just great.

    Yeah. I get stuck in middles too. Fast out of the gate, die in the stretch. I need to gander at that Neil Gaiman article. A book that is helping me better with middles and story structure in general is “The Writer’s Journey.” I also study a lot of stories to see how they did it.

    I agree with your comment above about not understanding your hero or character when you get stuck. Once you id what it is that they need to make them complete, it helps.

    Thanks for the post!

    • Hey, Dan, how’s it hanging? Been a while. 🙂

      I always find that, if my characters aren’t doing anything, I need to go back and spend more time with them. Usually damage them some more.

      Who wrote that book you mentioned? I’d google it, but I’m doing this on my phone out in the middle of nowhere.

      • Christopher Vogler wrote it. Its probably the best book I’ve ever read for fiction writing.

        Glad to see you still blogging. You’ve always been one of my favorites. Sorry I don’t swing by as much as I use to.

  3. Thanks for your articles, which are great reading and have introduced my to the concept of NaNoWriMo. I’m kind of glad I stumbled upon it half way through the month tho – I’m not sure I would have survived the pressure.

    I’ve only recently found myself with the time to write on any kind of sustained level and find I’m enjoying it very much, although I do suffer from the unfortunate handicap of an almost compleete lack of imagination. However, at the minute I’ve got an idea which I think is quite a good one and I’m hopeful that I will indeed finish a novel in November. November 2032, that is.

    Anyway, thanks again, for the read and for the heads-up.

  4. Oh, I so needed this. I have a short story I finished and am still trying to edit, and it’s dragging worse than the snails that litter the walkway in front of my house. But I needed a kick in the ass… Thanks for that!

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