I wrote the end of the middle of a book last night. This is the part where I drink some schnapps and celebrate, because writing the middle of a long story beats me down. When I write the beginning, I crackle with fun and excitement, because it’s all new and anything can happen. When I write the end, I glide in with relief and regret because I see how it all will wrap up, and I know I won’t get to write this story anymore. But when I write the middle, I feel like I’m dragging the African Queen through a leech-filled swamp—which happened in the middle of that story as I recall.

I struggle with the middle because it squats before me in a willfully ill-defined manner. Sometimes I’m tempted to write, “People do stuff here,” repeatedly for 200 pages. This problem plagues even the best writers of books, plays, and films, as the following examples show us:

Hamlet
Beginning – You learn about the characters and Hamlet swears revenge.
Middle – Hamlet does stuff to some people.
End – You have a bunch of dead guys.

Lonesome Dove
Beginning – You learn about the characters and they decide to go to Montana.
Middle – People do stuff while they ride a long way with a lot of cows.
End – You have a bunch of dead guys.

Star Wars (the original episodes)
Beginning – You learn about the characters and Luke learns the ways of the Force.
Middle – People fly through space and do stuff.
End – You have a bunch of dead guys and dancing ewoks.

The middle is an easy place for me to go wrong. I may kill a character that I’ll need later on. The boy and girl may get together too soon, or they may hate each other too much. I may make such a crazy thing happen that my readers become disgusted for the rest of the book. I may write a bunch of meaningless crap because I feel that I have to fill pages.

I may just get outright bored with the whole thing. The temptation to quit the difficult middle of one project and switch to the exciting beginning of something else is like being hooked on literary heroin.

One reason I wrestle so hard with the middle of stories is that I can see the end of the middle of my life, right up there ahead of me. The beginning of your life contains a lot of possibilities. Just like in a story, the middle of your life sees possibilities taken away. That’s just the way a story is—people do stuff in the middle, and that makes it impossible for other stuff to be done. As in my stories, I’d like the rest of the middle of my life not to be a series of “People do stuff here” pages. And I would definitely like to set myself up for an end that includes dancing ewoks.

4 thoughts on “You Have a Bunch of Dead Guys

  1. I think this sort of sums up my feelings on most creative endeavors: really good at starting stuff. Not very good at finishing up, because I get bored in the middle. Also, I have a hard time taking myself out of the story–my “characters” all seem to be a lot like me, which says something about the width and depth of my creative mind I think

    • Boredom is a killer for me too. Everyday I just tell myself. “I’ll write something, even if it’s only 100 words.” Usually–not always–once I get going I get more accomplished than I thought I could.

  2. Spot on. The creative process gets bogged down in the middle because there are too may forks in the road. In the beginning there is no road, and by the end there’s only knives.

    I have wrote the beginnings to many a great story. I have yet to write a great story.

  3. Spot on. The creative process gets bogged down in the middle because there are too may forks in the road. In the beginning there is no road, and by the end there’s only knives.

    I have wrote the beginnings to many a great story. I have yet to write a great story.

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