Annoying Plot Cliches You Need to Delete ASAP

We’re all guilty of these … but still.

Every once in awhile, I’ll read a bad book. Usually it’s a book I’ve picked up from a garage sale or inherited from a friend (pro tip: find friends who don’t hoard books — they’ll learn to give theirs to you for free). Most, if not all, of these books contain plot cliches that make me want to quit reading.

Some popular books have plot tropes, too — no story is perfect. But I feel it’s part of my responsibility, as a person who is slightly obsessed with trying to write as close to a perfect book as possible, to try to steer you away from easily avoidable writing mistakes.

Here are some of my favorite — and the most annoying — plot cliches. Get rid of them. Run away from them. Don’t let them fool you into thinking they’re necessary. They aren’t.

The alarming opener

For some reason, it’s tempting to open every story with the main character waking up to the sound of their alarm clock. How this started and why it’s forever burned into our creative consciouses, I don’t know. But I know I’ve done it, and if I’ve done it, at least a dozen of you out there are also guilty. STOP IT. I know it’s the easiest way to launch exposition, but it’s been done too many times to still be considered effective. You can come up with a better opening line than BEEP BEEP BEEPBEEPBEEEEEEP.

The romanic collision

People don’t run into each other in passing that often. And realistically, no one is carrying around an armful of books or so many groceries that dropping what they’re carrying is that catastrophic. AND it’s not very likely the second half of the colliding duo is going to be kind enough to bend down to help the first pick up everything they’ve dropped. People don’t make eye contact kneeling on a sidewalk or school hallway and have an instant romantic connection. It’s lazy writing. I’m not going to hold my head up high and say I’ve never used this cliche, but if it’s in your story, get rid of it. Unless, of course, your whole story is a cliche-driven satire. Then go for it.

The dream sequence

Are dreams in real life ever significant? Rarely. So why do we depend so much on dreams to move our plots forward? In some stories, it makes some sense. But in most, it now comes off as a lazy way to fill in the gaps of a story, and we need to retire it as a literary device (if it ever was one). I know there are people out there as obsessed with dreams as many characters in stories appear to be, but there are much more effective ways to motivate a character to do something than sending them on a journey to discover what their dream means. Also, if the dream has little to no significance at all, you’re just filling space. Don’t do that.

What’s the worst combination of these cliches, you ask? Waking up from a confusing dream to the sound of an alarm clock, only to realize you’re going to be late — and of course, in your haste to get to wherever you’re supposed to be, you run straight into a person who just happens to be attractive to you for some reason.


(Can you think of any more? I’d love to read them!)

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Why We Keep Writing About Characters in Pain

Pain is the most difficult prerequisite of growth.


I’ve been trying to write the same story for over four years.

Different characters, different settings, but the same main idea: people do bad things. It doesn’t mean they are bad people.

I became overly frustrated with my novel this week – so much so that I’m now 10,000 words behind schedule, which has never happened to me in any of the previous 8 NaNoWriMos I’ve done. I’m terrified, and angry, and fed up – because from somewhere in my head, these same storylines have emerged again. Not the same characters with the same personalities or strengths or flaws, but pasts. They all made this big mistake, and they’re trying to rebuild their lives in the aftermath. I’m so tired of always writing about this.

And yet, it needs to be written, from my perspective. Because there are things in my personal life I stubbornly have yet to deal with, and my brain isn’t going to move on from this theme until I do. That’s not so important right now. What’s important is that we’re way too hard on ourselves. We’re our biggest writing roadblocks. I used to get upset when I realized how dark all my stories were. Then I realized how much more realistic that made them. This is my style because this is who I am. I am who I am because of the pain I’ve endured. It’s all for the better.

Why do we keep writing about characters in pain? Because all humans are in pain. Not all people, all the time, read to escape their pain. They read because they seek to be understood. The same way you write to grasp a clearer understanding of the things you’ve been through.

You can’t write a book featuring characters without flaws, without putting them through difficult situations or having them come to terms with some past mistake or unfavorable circumstance. It’s not a good story if there isn’t growth. There are cliches within that requirement you have to learn to avoid, but that’s just something you learn how to overcome the more you write. People struggle. If you want your characters to be realistic, you have to make them struggle.

I never judge anyone for writing something dark. I’m guilty of it 500 times over. You can’t separate yourself from the stories you tell – not if you want to make them emotional and relatable; not if you want to take your readers on a journey. If you’ve lived, you’ve been through stuff. It doesn’t matter if it seems minor – it’s a big deal to you. And it’s very hard to avoid that when you’re writing. Your characters are created from the same brain that processed, or is still processing, whatever bad things have happened to you. You can use that. You should. You’re allowed to. It’s not overdone. It’s human.

I promise to keep writing regardless of how tired I am of these stories, if you promise to do the same. Whatever your hurdle is, you can climb over it. You’ll end up with scrapes and bruises and it’s not going to be an easy climb, but you’ll do it. We all will.

Your characters are hurting because they’re waiting for you to help them grow. Keep writing. Don’t abandon them. And know that you’re going to grow as you write, too. It’s a long process. It takes time. But I’m sure, as sure as I can be where I stand now, that it will be worth it.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

What ‘How to Get Away with Murder’ Can Teach You About Flashbacks in Storytelling

To hold you over until tonight’s season finale …

How to Get Away with Murder’s writing has always impressed me. It somehow always manages to correct its flaws about as quickly as they appear, surprise me even when I’m convinced I know what’s going to happen next, and keep my full attention every second of each episode, season after season.

I won’t spoil anything for you if you’re behind or haven’t even gotten around to watching from the beginning yet (it’s worth it, I promise). Each season begins with an intense scene (usually in which someone is dead or close to it) in which only a few small details are revealed. The episodes that follow backtrack to the “present,” showing the events that lead up to the season finale, in which all the pieces revealed throughout the season eventually come together to loop back to the very first scene.

It’s not an unheard of storytelling method by any means, but the way in which it’s executed never ceases to astound me. Whether or not you’re a fan of the show, there’s a lot we can learn from the way it tells a very complicated story. Whether you’re a screenwriter, novelist or you write a little bit of everything fictional, here are some key things to keep in mind when incorporating flashbacks into a story.

One or more of your characters is most definitely hiding something.

Or, at the very least, there’s a lot about a character’s past or past events that the reader doesn’t know, and isn’t supposed to find out about right away. There’s a way to withhold information about a character’s dark past – and create a dark past – without falling prey to cliches. It doesn’t even have to be dark, I suppose. It can be funny, it can be whatever you want it to be, as long as it matches the overall tone of your story. If your story requires flashbacks, it’s a good way to help readers slowly piece together the past.

You should never reveal every piece of background at once.

Never. Storytelling gets complicated when you weave together elements like foreshadowing, backstory and a whole lot of shady dialogue. But that’s what makes it fun … most of the time, anyway. What you don’t want to do is leave everything until the second to last chapter, or reveal too much at once and kill the momentum. This strategy literally baits the reader into reading/watching/listening more because they want to find out what happened. They want to uncover all the pieces. Don’t give them too many pieces, or they’ll lose interest.

Storytelling shouldn’t always be linear.

I tend to overuse memories and flashbacks, but that’s because my fiction tends to be (extremely borderline) psychological thriller. I like messing with people’s heads, characters included. I think it’s fun to make a story jump around in time, as long as it makes logical sense. There are plenty of stories in which a story starts at the beginning and continues on, forward in time, until the end. In those stories, it works. There are stories where time is always jumping back and forward and back again – as long as it works as a device to move the plot forward, you can’t go wrong. Usually.

Who’s ready for tonight’s season finale? I’m not. Spend some time writing today, in anticipation of whatever awful things are in store to wreck all of our minds and hearts forever.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Here’s Why, Sometimes, Your Story Doesn’t Go the Way You Planned



You’re in the middle of something completely unrelated to writing. As often happens when you’re away from your story, you get an idea – but this idea isn’t like any you’ve had for your book so far. It’s different. It goes against everything you thought your characters would do. Executing this new element would change everything – and that makes you nervous.

There’s a reason why you’re nervous. No one likes to have their plans changed at the last minute. But there’s also a reason behind this prompt to change the course of your story for the better. It’s not your mind playing tricks on you, trying to over-complicate your writing process. It’s your story, trying to tell you it’s ready to grow.

Have things turned out for you the way your parents dreamed they would? Honestly, probably not. It’s the same way with your book. You have a lot of plans for its future. You know how it starts, where it heads and how it ends. But that doesn’t mean you’d be disappointed if things didn’t go exactly the way you hoped. In the end, you know you’ll be proud of it no matter what.

So though this new idea you have might mean your whole book will change – that’s OK. Part of authoring a novel is knowing that at some point, you’re going to have to do what’s best for your story … even if it means doing things differently than you necessarily want to.

Your plans will change. Your story can’t help it – it’s just following its true course.

This doesn’t mean planning ahead is a waste of time. Even if you don’t end up following your original “outline” point by point, there’s still that incentive there to keep moving forward. It just means you have to be willing to deviate from your original plan.

Your story evolves the more invested you are in its pages. The same way a first draft is never the best a book can be, certain things you imagine will belong in your story don’t always end up belonging there. It’s OK to change your mind. It’s necessary to go with the natural flow of your creativity, even if it’s headed somewhere you aren’t sure you want to go.

I will never forget my most intense experience with this. It’s the most extreme case – if it happens to you, in many ways, I’m happy for you – but I’m also sorry. I was at my desk job, typing numbers into text fields, listening to a writing podcast, when I realized the story I had been working on for over a year could not continue on. If I wanted to write it, I needed to change it – completely. I needed to start over. The reason it had taken so long to write even half of it was because it needed to go in a completely different direction.

Did I want to rewrite everything I’d already spent so much time working on? Of course not. It took a long time to do that, too. But I agreed – because that’s what was best for my book, and I knew it. I eventually finished writing it, and though I have yet to go back and edit it, I’m still proud of it. More proud than I would have been if I’d kept on course with a story that wasn’t really working.

It’s scary, realizing you have to give up your control like that. But there are some hidden aspects of our creativity we can’t reach ourselves. The only way to set them free is to let creativity take over. Sometimes that means everything changes. But it is always for the better in the end – you’ll see.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

“Not Knowing What It’s Like” Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Write About It

A writer needs a chance to grow.


I have a very bad habit of reading Facebook comments on articles. I can’t help it. I am a storyteller, therefore, I want to know what other people are thinking about the news and issues brought up through things other people have written. It makes me less judgmental. Occasionally, it gives me reassurance, when someone defends an argument I haven’t had the chance to yet.

Yet often the downside is that I read far too many comments from strangers who react to certain pieces of writing as if they have been personally attacked. “You don’t know me,” they type. “You don’t know what it’s like to live the way I live.”

In some cases, I suppose, that may be true. But that’s making the assumption that a writer hasn’t done there homework. And there are many that do.

The problem I have with journalism and editorial writing (not the same thing, for those who aren’t sure), is that sometimes a writer puts their thoughts and opinions before the experiences and feelings of others. Even I’ve made this mistake. But what bothers me is when writers really do try to understand, and do their research, and paint a picture of what life is like for someone different than themselves, and they’re still criticized for writing about something “they’ve never been through.”

Not all readers have reactions like this, but many do. True, you can’t speak to all perspectives on one issue with one piece of writing. No one ever experiences a situation the same as someone else. But why should that stop you from trying to see the world through another person’s eyes?

I personally have been through some things I’m still too sensitive, even as a writer, to write about and publish. Yet there are those who are far enough removed from their own struggles who are also writers and who can speak to how it feels, or might feel for some people. And there are also those who are skilled writers who haven’t been through it, but have the capability to talk to people like me, and to tell our stories for us – not because we don’t want to, but because maybe we’re not ready to, in the same way.

There are plenty of things in my life I haven’t experienced firsthand, haven’t yet, or never will. Something I have come to love about fiction is that, as an author, it doesn’t matter if you’ve been through it or not. If you can do your research, talk to people who have survived it, understand something and then create characters and circumstances that show what it’s like to live through these things – even if you haven’t – readers, if you do it right, don’t know the difference.

I think we limit ourselves far too much, when we assume we can only “write what we know.” What if you want to write about something you don’t know? Then you research and interview and learn until you DO know, as best you can. If I only let myself write about things I’ve felt, seen and heard, every single one of my stories would be the same. That’s not the kind of writer I want to be. And I’m sure you don’t, either.

If someone gets something wrong about a subject, if they don’t go deep enough, if they miss the mark, then maybe they need to hear about how it really is. But I wish people understood “teachable moments.” Attacking someone for being “wrong” or “not understanding” doesn’t make them any more knowledgeable about your circumstances. If a writer doesn’t know, they need to be told – but in a constructive way. Don’t discourage them from gaining a new perspective. I’m really tired of seeing that.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT – You Have Hundreds of Imaginary Friends and You Didn’t Even Know It

I have always had a theory that characters are more than made-up pieces of an equally fictional story.


This year, I made myself a promise. Many promises, actually. I created a list of specific goals I wanted to accomplish before the end of the year, as I normally do. But this year was different. This list was different. On it, I declared I was going to write an ebook. A nonfiction book about something related to writing … I just wasn’t sure what.

And then, one day early in January, I figured it out.

I have always had a theory that characters are more than made-up pieces of an equally fictional story. To me, characters are much more like people. I know I’m not the only one who talks to them, argues with them and eventually gives into their pleas to have a story end THIS way instead of the way I had originally planned.

But characters are not quite like ordinary people. We’re the only ones who can see and interact with our own characters as we’re creating stories, for example. We use our imaginations to construct people who do not exist in the real world.

So in a way, when we create characters, we are also creating imaginary friends.

Imaginary friends who are REALLY, REALLY hard to please. Or are they?

So I took this concept and created something I think is pretty awesome out of it. And in just a few weeks, you are going to be able to see the finished product for yourself.

Imaginary Friends in Extraordinary Places: How to Cooperate with Characters Who Know Your Stories Better Than You Do is a short and fun book about creativity, imagination and how to handle that really confusing moment when you want your story to go one way, but your characters have something completely different in mind.

Every time we create a new character, we gain a new friend for life. Our relationship with that friend can make or break a story. In just a little over 20 pages (I said short, I meant really short), I’ll help you start to think more deeply about who your characters really are, how they think and what they want from you.

You can pre-order your copy of the ebook for $1.99 here.

Characters are one of my favorite subjects to write about when it comes to fiction and creative writing, and I can’t wait to discuss the topics addressed in the book more in-depth with you on this blog.

But it’s not quite time yet. So until then, click away from this tab and get back to writing.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.

Image courtesy of Meg Dowell.

Why You Don’t Need to Know Everything About Your Characters (Yet)

TJ Scott Silhouette Photography
TJ Scott Silhouette Photography

I have been creating stories basically my whole life. I say “creating” because, before I really knew how to write down the stories in my head, I did what any other kid my age would do: I made them up by acting them out. Barbies, Beanie Babies, dress-up: I have all these things to thank for getting me through the early years, until I knew enough about language and forming words to start writing those ideas down and saving them for later.

Yet still, after all this time, I’m amazed at how the same brain somehow manages to come up with different stories that are complete opposites of each other, in every way possible.

I have had the idea for my current novel in my head for awhile, and had to wait until this month to begin allowing it to play out on paper, because I was working on finishing up another story. I didn’t realize before embarking on this new literary journey how much I would end up depending on character development and dialogue to move the story along.

My last book was a YA sci-fi/adventure story, which meant it relied heavily on critical events and the surrounding environment as elements to give the story sustenance. I liked that change, because I usually write in the contemporary YA genre and hadn’t had to think quite so much about imaginary places and mechanisms of the future before.

It was a nice change. But it happened, it’s behind me, and honestly, I’m glad to be back writing in a genre I’m more comfortable in. It’s not that I don’t believe writers need to stretch themselves beyond their comfort zones. I just, I guess, write a lot better in the genre I got my start under in the first place.

For some reason, though, I’m having quite a time adjusting to writing such a character-based story again. It takes place in a small town, both the alternating narrators are teenagers and they and everyone they know end up crossing paths with each other at different points as the story moves along. So basically, it’s my life seven years ago, except much more dramatic and none of the characters are based on me or my life (not exactly).

So why is it so hard to adjust? There are a few key events that the story keeps leading up to: a school play being the major one. But while there’s commentary from both narrators throughout and a few hints to some back story here and there, most of it is just talking. Sitting at lunch, talking. At a pizza place or coffee shop, talking. At first this worried me. Is it boring? Is this even exciting enough to keep me entertained? But somehow it is. Because somehow, all these characters have appeared that even I don’t know enough about, and with the conclusion of every scene, I want to know more about them.

Does that mean the reader would, theoretically, feel the same way? And, more importantly, does it mean I’m somehow doing this gradual character development thing right for once?

As much as I’m all for planning and outlining, I don’t really like the idea of detailed character sketches (writing out traits and facts about the characters in your stories). I think it’s important to know their general personality and how they might typically respond to certain events, but I don’t think it’s necessary to know every single detail about them.

I think, if you don’t know your characters as well as you want to, in a way, that’s a good thing. Building a story and creating characters is sort of like building a relationship with people who don’t exist. The longer you spend with them, the further you get into your story, the more they will reveal pieces of themselves to you. You might use all those pieces and you might not. It’s a journey.

I don’t know about you, but I really enjoy learning things about my characters as I go along. It makes me feel more connected, and it’s quite possible that if I can convey that ever-growing connection as I’m writing, my readers will sense that, and feel as though they’re making new friends, too.

Not that I ever expect anyone to read my stories. But it could happen.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Image courtesy of TJ Scott.

Meg is the managing editor at College Lifestyles magazine, a guest contributor with Lifehack and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine. She is a seven-time NaNoWriMo winner and has also written for Teen Ink and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.

Solution Saturday: My Characters Have Taken Over (HELP)


Starting to plan out a new novel is sort of like sitting down to plan a vacation. By the time you’re on your way to the airport (by the time you start writing), you’re convinced you have everything figured out. You know exactly when that plane’s going to take off and where it’s going to land. You know how you’re getting to your hotel and the first thing you’re going to do when you check in.

Everything’s all planned out, all the way through the moment you arrive back home.

Then you end up taking a detour on the way to the airport. Your flight’s delayed. It’s raining. The plane has to make an unexpected landing. You end up stranded on an island with only a volleyball as a friend and it all goes downhill from there.

Wait, what?

Let’s be real. Your novel never turns out the way you thought it would. Your characters are to blame, and there are only a few things you can do to cope.

“Sketch” them out

We’re talking writing here, not drawing, but if you want to try that too, go for it. If you’re starting to figure out your characters know more than you do – which is much more likely than most of us are willing to believe – take some time to “get to know” them. Free write about their strengths, weaknesses, childhood events, etc. (Not recommended during WriMos.) You’ll be surprised at how much truth comes out during this exercise. The best part is, you’ll probably be able to use most of it, even if you don’t end up pointing everything out to the reader directly.

You’re in on the secrets now. Mostly. It’s a good place to be, but don’t get too comfortable.

Trust no one

Your characters will turn on you and they will turn on each other. This is great for your story but not so safe for your sanity. Do you ever wonder how T.V. writers come up with all those great twists? THEY DON’T. Somehow, they just happen. The only explanation is that our characters are in more control of the plot than they’d like us to believe.

So expect the unexpected. Know that if you’re in the middle of writing a scene and all of a sudden someone is dead, it’s not your fault. All you can do is move forward.

Just go with it

The truth is, we can make all the plans and do as much outlining as we want (or not). But somehow, when we create a cast of characters, we’re signing an unwritten agreement. These characters develop minds of their own, and pretty quickly, they somehow manage to figure out better ways to tell their stories than you could have ever come up with on your own.

Sometimes you just have to sit back, take a deep breath and let your characters take you where they want to go. Don’t fight it. In the end, it really is better for your story, even if it’s the exact opposite of what you thought it would be.

Don’t be afraid. You are in good hands. Hopefully.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

Am I Addicted to Writing?


At the end of last week, I finished writing a book. Believe me, there was a lot of dancing and celebration after that 3.5 year-long stretch of wondering if it was ever going to be done. I’d been telling myself for a long time, as an incentive, that I was going to take a week off of fiction writing once I finished. Which worked out nicely, since there just happened to be one week between finishing and the start of National Novel Writing Month (TODAY!).

Friday night was great. Saturday and Sunday were great. And then something happened.

The second I stopped writing, I sort of, well, fell apart.

I know I completely burned myself out the week I finished writing my book. In that same week I plowed through a lot of other work so I could have the weekend off, which at one point involved writing four articles in one day (that’s a lot of work to do if you’re not getting paid to do it, I’m just being honest, it was rough). I could feel it. I slept later, dragged myself through every single school assignment and article I had to get done this week and just barely made a deadline yesterday.

It happens to the best of us, which is why I didn’t let it bother me too much, but then midnight hit last night/this morning. And I just sat there and wrote 250 words of MY NEW BOOK like it was no big deal, like all of a sudden my funk just reversed itself.

That bothered me a little bit more.

They (the experts) say addiction is a person’s way of subconsciously distracting themselves from reality. It’s not that my life is all that awful or anything, I mean, I have a place to live and food and coffee, you know, all the necessities. I’m getting an advanced education and I’m able to do what I love every day and sometimes my cat even likes me. But sometimes, I’m hit with the reality that I’m a college graduate (double that), broke, unemployed and single, and that’s not a fun recurring realization to have.

It is, however, the reality that hit me (again) as soon as I stopped writing for a few days. Which sort of made me wonder: am I addicted to writing? And if I am, is it really such a bad thing?

If I would have broken my own rule and worked on a short story this week while waiting for NaNoWriMo to start, would I have felt better? Did I feel so awful because I stopped writing, or did I stop writing because I felt so awful?

Am I forever trapped in this cycle of always having to be working on a piece of fiction if I want to stay sane? Am I never allowed to take a break? Or was it just a coincidence, and I just happened to feel awful the same week I was attempting to take a fiction break?

Am I writing too many articles and not enough fiction? Does there need to be a balance? These questions have been running through my head all morning. The nice thing is that I’ll be doing a whole lot of both this month now that NaNo has BEGUN! Feel free to join me, by the way.

Am I a little creatively insane? Yeah, probably. I don’t mind it. If writing a lot makes me happy, and someday a miracle happens and I can actually get paid to do what makes me happy (I’ll never stop trying), I’ll shout my writing addiction to the heavens. I’ll write it on my driveway with sidewalk chalk. I’ll write until my fingers fall off. As long as I get a break every now and then, I’m good.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

Meg is a twenty-something workaholic with a passion for writing, coffee and health. In addition to her status as an aspiring novelist, Meg is the managing editor at College Lifestyles magazine, a guest contributor with Lifehack and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine. She is a seven-time NaNoWriMo winner and has also written for Teen Ink and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.

Solution Saturday: Why Is Writing the Middle Always the Hardest Part?


Though it might seem a little backwards, writing the end of a story is a lot easier than writing the beginning. And writing the beginning is even easier than figuring out what comes between a story’s beginning and ending. Why? Because the writer always seems to know the end result, but often struggles to figure out how to get their characters there.

You probably have a decent beginning and a really kick-butt ending to the story you’re working on right now, but it might be that the middle of your story just isn’t coming together the same way. It happens to a lot of writers, and we know it’s not only frustrating, but discouraging.

Here are some solutions to help you conquer your middle and finish that story.

Solution 1: Outline your major plot points 

You might not want to spend any of your writing time on outlines, but the bigger a story gets, the easier it is to get lost. Sometimes it really does help to see it all laid out in one place. An outline doesn’t have to be anything fancy: just sketch the main points, like you would if you were writing a paper or drafting a proposal (but it’s more fun, right?).

Once you have your main ideas in front of you, you can start to break them down into smaller points and try to figure out not only where you’re stuck, but how you’re going to move past it and fill in the gaps. The answers you’ve been searching for may have been there all along; you just couldn’t see them before. 

Solution 2: Start at the end and work backwards 

You know how the story ends, usually, or you at least know where you’re going to leave your characters and storyline, whether you’ve come up with a killer cliffhanger (if applicable) or not. Ideally, you know how it all starts and how it all ends. So all you really need to do is work backwards.

If you’re stuck in the middle of your story, you don’t just have all of the beginning and all of the end written: you probably have pieces of the middle, too, they just haven’t come together yet. Start from “the beginning of your end” and see if you can backtrack to figure out, one by one, the events that lead up to the story’s climax. 

Solution 3: Keep the story moving

You might have hit a midpoint and started to feel stuck because your characters are wandering around a figurative forest. Let’s think Harry Potter for a second. How much of Deathly Hallows did they spend, literally, in a forest? But it wasn’t boring, though, was it? Because regardless of moving from clearing to clearing, they were always finding answers, asking more questions and hiding.

As best as you can, pack the middle of your story with action. Always keep your characters in motion. Are they working toward achieving a goal and have to overcome smaller obstacles along the way to get there? Are there big questions that branch off into smaller questions that can be answered as the story moves along? Everything leads up to the climax in a small but equally important way.

Middles are tough, and they might end up being the last part of a story you actually write. But it’s like taking something apart, laying all the pieces in front of you and trying to figure out how to put it all back together again. Once you have that ah-ha moment, you’re on your way to the finish line with no problems at all.

Well. Sort of.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.