Lessons Learned: Traversing the Muddy Middle

More on the basics I learned to allow me to produce 52 stories in 52 weeks. I’m working my way through the 7 Point Plot Structure because without knowing that, I couldn’t write a single story in a week. It took me weeks and weeks of trial and failure to get a single working story before this.

Speaking of try-fail, that’s precisely what the middle of the 7 Point Plot Structure is about.

  • The character must try to solve the problem.
  • The character must fail causing things to get worse.
  • Repeat

This is something else that seems simple but there were all sorts of traps waiting for me. First, it is the protagonist who must try to solve the problem. I talked about this yesterday and it really was a problem for me. I needed to force my characters to get off their pretty little tushes and take action.

The failure must come from the protagonist’s action. It’s dirty pool if the failure comes from something the protagonist has no influence on. I struggled with this. Finally I had to do a lot of soul-searching. I realized that this is a personal failing. I don’t take action as often as I should. I gave my own cowardice to my protagonists. I had to fix that. I stopped writing from inside myself. Instead I observed others and made the stories about them.

The action the protagonist takes has to be intelligent, based on the character’s own skills and abilities. Even trying their best, the action taken has to make the situation worse. This caught me up for a while because I’m not as smart as my characters. That sense of inadequacy messed with my mind. I got around this by writing the beginnings and ends to a lot of my stories before tackling the middles. I also asked Steve for advice. I asked other friends for advice on topics they were experts on it. Eventually I developed more confidence.

Middles show the stakes for a character. Middles show the price the protagonist must pay for success. Full payment is due upon the climax, but you get a sense here for what it might be. That’s part of why it’s important that what goes wrong be due to the protagonist’s actions.

In Western short stories we see two try-fail cycles in the middle and one try-succeed/fail cycle in the climax. Longer stories have more try-fail cycles. Shorter stories (under 2,000 words) still need three try-fail cycles. but according to Mary Robinette Kowal, one of the try-fail sequences can happen off-screen and simply be referred to.

There is so much going on in the middle. That’s why middles are hard. But the middle is the majority of the book. I still have a lot to learn.

Tomorrow I finish up the 7 Point Plot Structure with the climax and the validation. After that I’ll talk about the psychological and practical steps I took to ensure that I could produce a short story a week.

Be well, friends! and stay well.


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