It’s inevitable as I work through a novel that I reach a point where the story stalls. It’s happened on all six of the novels I’ve completed, and it has reached that point with my current project. I don’t start a project unless I have a strong premise for the story arc. I usually know the beginning and the ending based on the story concept, but how to connect the two is often wide open. Even with an outline I run into this issue because the middle doesn’t always work out as planned.
Why does this happen? The problem lies in how the story and characters evolve. My outline provides the guard rails for the story, but I don’t follow it religiously. I like to let my characters go in a direction that feels natural, and I’m not afraid to change the trajectory of the story if it suits the character. Sometimes, secondary characters become main ones and vice versa. Sometimes, story elements emerge on the fly. This can create issues later when I try to pull the story back toward the main arc.
For many years prior to the last four, I’ve struggled through this part of writing. Novels that I started way back in the day often went into the drawer during this phase never to see the light of day again, but the big difference now is that I know I just have to keep writing even if I get a little off track with the story idea. The endless editing phase makes all the difference in the world – that’s where I tighten things up and make the final choices that give the story its shine.
If I’ve learned anything over the last four years it’s that the first draft is really just a very elaborate story concept. During the editing phase, I hack up the story into many bits and pieces and put them back together in a way that makes the novel more appealing. It’s hard for a new novelist to get his head around this, and I didn’t really get it until I attended the Novel Writing Intensive back in March. Now, the lull in the middle doesn’t bother me so much because I know the story will turn out very differently than it is today. I just have to power through the lull and get the draft out so that I can start the real writing.