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Writing Tips: I’ve got Answers! Round 1

The response to “You’ve got questions” was incredible! I was surprised to receive so many inquires, and on a huge variety of topics! Some questions–particularly those that involve writing–will take longer to answer than others, so I’m going to tackle one today. I’m still accepting questions, so if you have another go ahead and leave a comment, or submit one to me via email.

Today’s question is from Maya. She says: I love writing, but I always find it hard to finish my stories! Not because I don’t know the ending, but more because I just loose motivation in the middle of my books… Do you ever get writer’s block and, if so, how do you manage to override it and finish your stories?

Ahhh yes. The middle of the story is tough. It’s where action usually lags and interest wanes if you’re not careful. Never fear, there are a few techniques to help you pull through!

The main way I drag myself through the middle portion of a book, is that I make sure I’m enjoying what I write. If you lose motivation, it might be because you don’t find the scenes captivating. The trick is to insert sub-plots, action, and character interactions that keep everything moving forward.

I need an example for this one, so I’m going to use Cinderella & the Colonel. Everyone knows how Cinderella starts—a poor girl being bossed around by her step-family—and ends—the ball, the prince, midnight, etc. When I wrote Cinderella and the Colonel I knew I wanted to include those aspects. But what the heck was I supposed to do for the 100 pages between those two points!?! So I used two sub-plots—Cinderella almost losing Aveyron, and Friedrich doing his darnest to convince Cinderella not to hate Erlauf—to create tension and apprehension, even though there was very little physical action.

Whenever I face writer’s block/realize the story is getting slow, I first sit down and figure out the problem. Is the story crawling because the characters are boring and I need to rewrite them? Or is it because the plot, at the moment, lacks action, or emotional tension? I then sit down and write a list of all the horrible the things that could happen to my characters. I usually fill a page or two of a notebook before I find a few ideas that I really like, and then I incorporate them into the story.

In example, if you were writing a regency romance you could: Try bringing in a new character—maybe a girl who tries to seduce the hero, or a male who tries to sway your heroine. Pull a Jane Austen and have your hero propose, only for your heroine to refuse him. Maybe the girl narrowly avoids tarnishing her reputation, or is mocked and openly ridiculed by the ton.

Are you writing a fantasy? Kill someone off, or set bandits on your heroes to kidnap someone or steal something important. Maybe the enemy intercepts a communication, or perhaps a magical calamity is accidentally released.

You might not be terribly impressed with this idea because you already have a great plot, but really this all still applies.  Subplots will help prop the main plot up and keep the pace moving. Take, for example, Star Wars. Leia and Han’s romance is not the main plot-line, but it helps provide emotional tension at some of the more boring places in the story.

Nothing ramps up the drama factor like a flirtatious fight in the middle of a stressful get-away!

Nothing ramps up the drama factor like a flirtatious fight in the middle of a stressful get-away!

Harry Potter is another good example. People still consider Snape and Lilly to be one of the greatest love stories of the century/decade, and Snape wasn’t even a main character! If you’re sick of my romance examples, think about Sherlock Holmes. The original books have very little romance, but there’s so much suspense and people trying to kill other people and bizarre things happening that they are never NOT exciting! If you want to know how to keep tension going, I suggest you try re-reading a few of your favorite authors, and see how they “up the stakes” and push their characters forward. Shannon Hale is a master at this, considering that her stories are fairly lighthearted. Robin McKinley’s Chalice is another good example. In Chalice you don’t even know you’re reading about boring, local government meetings because of the stress McKinley puts on her poor heroine.

So why do I keep insisting you add more physical action or emotional drama? Because those kinds of scenes are fun to write—it’s why the beginning and endings of books are so addicting! If the middle of your book is filled with action and drama, you will want to write those scenes as well, which will naturally move you closer and closer to your goal.

I hope that helps, Maya. If anyone wants me to clarify something, just leave a comment! Until next time, thanks for reading, Champions!

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