We’re three weeks into the Winter Writing Fest, and whether you’re writing, plotting, or editing your middle could be a bit dull.
Let me tell you what I know about story middles.

They can be expanded into a huge massive saga and not hold one ounce of story muscle. Or, they can be elusive and cause the author to stare at the muse-sucking blinking cursor. Yet, they can be so wonderfully written and with every page the reader is drawn into the world you’ve built, and slowly, they become emotionally attached to your characters.

Writing the middle can suck, if you don’t know where your story is headed.

I’m a devoted panster. (Right hand held over my heart) I have been since the day I picked up a Crayola crayon and put it to my Bugs Bunny coloring book, my mother’s grocery list, the wall. (Yes, Bill Gates and I were wearing cloth diapers then.) I made up my stories as I went, drawing pictures and telling my story to my younger sister, who couldn’t talk yet. I’ve tried over the last ten years to get serious about plotting ahead, but in the end my story goes off in a totally new direction (damn characters). However, I have learned I MUST know several things before I start a new story, which helps my middle from becoming boring. What are they? Read on to learn how things work in my mind.

First, I need to learn my characters’ dreams and what drives them to go after those aspirations. (Everyone fantasies about obtaining something but not everyone is willing to do the hard work to succeed.) In order to learn my character’s most intimate desire, I dig deep into my hero’s, heroine’s and my antagonist’s hearts.

Why the villain’s? Because his/her desires are going to conflict with the hero’s or heroine’s dreams.

Okay, it’s a recognized fact that everyone wants love. So, if you said love, you’re grabbing the easy answer. You need to dig deeper. What kind of love and love for what. Love has many forms. The heart-wrenching or warming love between to people. They love for something bigger than any of us: God, nature, the universe. The love of money or power over others. Or the love we feel when we do something; helping someone, drugs, alcohol, creating something, achieving something no one else ever has, or the moment your character sees life slip away. What does you character love? And what are they willing to do to feel that love.

Next, I know the inciting incident that will set my hero on a path. That is my beginning. I’m going to use the movie Apollo 13, since many have seen the movie, as an example. (This where your character is an astronaut in the line-up for a flight into space in years to come. Then the guy in front of him, breaks his leg and suddenly it’s his time. His love is to walk on the moon just became real.)

Then, I decide what is going to make my hero change. (An explosion causes severe damage to Apollo.) At this point Jim Lovell, realizes what is more important to him then walking on the moon; His wife, children, family and friends back on Earth. And the lives of his crew.
Finally, I decide how my story ends. Of course, I always want an HEA. If you haven’t seen Apollo 13, I’m not going to spoil it for you.

Okay, now how do you keep your middle from sagging. ( I’m keeping it simple.)

In the first half of your middle, you write scenes that will show case your heroines trek to achieve his dreams. He will do anything to feel that power of love. He will also need to come up against challenges and make decisions that don’t sit well with him, because they go against his moral compass. He does them out of selfish love. Jim Lovell makes such a decision concerning his best friend during training.

In the second half of your middle, you’ll write scenes showcasing how heroic your hero really is. He now has a clear vision of who he truly is and what he really wants. You, the writer, should throw everything you can at him to make him fail. The universe threw everything at Jim Lovell, his crew, and the men and women of NASA, until the final black moment. (Again no spoiler.)

From there, it’s happy ending for me.

Okay recap:
1) Know your characters.
2) What is the incident that starts it all?
3) Write scenes where hero works toward achieving his dream. Make it a roller coaster ride, with scenes of achievement and scenes of conflict and defeat.)
4) What is the incident that occurs which makes your hero realize his true self, or love?
5) Write scenes showing him/her as the hero working toward his goal. Challenge him until the moment he triumphs. Write lines that personifies your character. (“Go ahead. Make my day.” No need to tell you who spoke that line.)
6) Write a satisfying ending.

Much of what I’ve said here today comes from the teachings of Michael Hauge. I took his workshop last year and it was like a light bulb went off over my head. I recapped my workshop notes here:

What I Learned From Michael Hauge – PART 1

And here:

What I Learned From Michael Hauge Part 2

Hope Ramsey also did a wonderful blog on middles here:


I think it’s so important for writers at any level to read different author’s POV on craft subjects. What clicks for me, might not click for you. And reading about craft helps us better our skills. So, has anyone learned about middles from another source?




  1. Kathy Crouch says:

    I haven’t formally been playing in your writing fest. However, I’ve been doing some editing, revising, and writing new. The first two since I decided New Year’s Eve to enter a contest and I paid for two entries. I waited until the last day to submit them.
    Before that I’ve been following my own goal. I set a huge challenge for myself for the last two weeks in October. Then I jumped full blast into NaNo. First time in 5 years I didn’t make the 50k. By the end of November I was burned out. If not for a little yahoo group of Writing GIAM 100 x 100, I’d have quit. But, the minimum there is 100 words for 100 days. I couldn’t quit, I was almost to year 3 without missing a day. I decided to settle for 500 words per day. No, I only averaged that in December, I barely made that 100 some days. But, even with cataract surgery on both eyes this month, I’ve only dropped below 500 words per day twice, with an average of 598 words per day.
    Like Hope, I’m a die hard panster. I do however, have an idea for the story, I”ve started writing little bios for them, things like that. I used those Beat Sheets that Gwen, I can’t find her name, wrote about in a book. I know Blake Snyder made them famous for movies, I think. Anyway, I write down stuff about the hero, heroine, and the villain. Then I start writing.

    • Hmmm. I’ve heard of beats, but never beat sheets. If you think of her name, please let us know. Thank you for sharing that info.

      Also, kudos for preserving and forming a habit. Joining writer groups is a great way to stay motivated. I love working in the Ruby chatroom with other authors. Helping others with plots, characters and lines, keeps my own muse fired-up.

      • Paula Huffman says:

        Hi Autumn,

        I may have those Beat Sheets! If you want to friend me on Facebook, I’ll share them with you. The ones I have are interactive and quite helpful. On Fb, I’m Paula Leonard Huffman. Or I can send my email. Whatever works!

        • Thanks, Paula. I’ll friend you, but if you would share them with me, I’d appreciated it.

          • Paula Huffman says:

            Gladly! Unfortunately, I’m at work right now on my dinosaur computer (it’s a Vista) and it won’t let me on messenger. I will get them to you tonight, if it doesn’t decide to cooperate before then!

          • Paula Huffman says:

            All ready to go. If you would like to message me your email address, I can send them any time…assuming at some point the computer decides to behave and let me back on messenger. Normally, it does… eventually. If you would prefer not, I’ll get them to you this evening. Whatever works best for you!

  2. Good tips, Autumn. My approach to the middle is a more instinctual “what needs to happen to get us to X” – what the characters need to experience/learn/feel before they can hit the HEA resolution. But that sounds very similar to what you’re saying here, if a bit more vague. 🙂

    • Different ways to say the same thing is good. Everyone learns in a different manner. Like I said, after years of studying, Michael Hauge’s workshop clicked for me. Was it his words or timing? Don’t know.

  3. Julia Day says:

    I kinda sort connect the dots. I know the ending, the beginning and inciting incident, and generally the midpoint. Then I start filling in scenes between the midpoint and the ending…connecting the dots. It’s all out of order, but it works for me.

    • Everyone’s process is different. We’ve said that many times. New writer’s need to try new ways until they learn their way. Season writers also need to be open to other ways to improve their skills.

      Have fun connecting those dots.

  4. As you know, I’m right at the start of my middle in my WIP. 😉 So yeah, these questions/tips come in handy. Like Vivi, I tend toward a more general question, like “what does my character need to learn” and then “how is he/she going to learn it.” However, when I’m stuck, it helps to dive deeper using questions like you put forth. Thank you!

  5. Darynda Jones says:

    As an extreme plotter, I love this. LOL. I always wondered if pantsers thought of these things. I couldn’t imagine beginning a book with…nothing. No idea of who my characters are or what their motivations are. It just boggled my mind. This makes much more sense.

  6. Laurie Kellogg says:

    Great post, AJ! This is basically how I write my middle, however, I’ve described it differently. My process is ‘coming up with situations that teach my hero/heroine the lessons he/she needs to learn to triumph during the black moment.’

    • Yup, my characters learn through the challenges they meet and the defeats they suffer. Same process, just another way to look at it.

      Thanks for commenting today.

  7. Cynthia Huscroft says:

    Great tips, AJ! & I still have the copy of the blog you wrote after attending the the Michael Hague workshop last year.

    Thank you:)

  8. Kathy Crouch says:

    Austin RWA hosted Michael Hague in a two day workshop. We also had Margie Lawson for a day. Such awesome teachers. Funny for me it clicks while I’m there doing it, but then later not so much.

  9. Kathy Crouch says:

    I have them too, but I forget that I do. Plus, I attended a Deep Immersion workshop with her in 2014 in San Antonio. WOW! Great stuff. I have all my stuff from then too.

  10. Jeanine Englert says:

    I’m a day late to read your post, but I loved it! As a pantster, I struggle with the last third of my books the most as I want to rush through it.

    Thank you for 6 point checklist…especially 4 and 5. It will be helpful when I get in the dregs.

    Happy writing,



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