Once again this year, I have a new author to introduce to you! I met Alexandra Ely online and I’m so pleased to have her thoughts on mapping the middle. When Alexandra refers to the second act, she’s talking about using the three-act structure to craft a plot. If you’re unfamiliar with this kind of plotting, you can read this post which will give a basic description.
Writing a story is much like mapping a new territory and it’s just as easy to get lost in your own world as it is in the real one. It’s especially easy to get turned around in the middle section of your novel if you’re not prepared. In this post, I’d like to share with you some of the tools I have learned to bring with me when I venture into a new story.
When you reach the beginning of act two, it’s as if you’re standing at a crossroad with multiple options. It can be overwhelming because many of them are plausible paths your characters can take to get them from act one to act three. This was an element of writing that surprised me when I first started.
It was frustrating and slowed me down considerably. I was uncertain which was the “best way”. So many ideas could happen and many of them worked equally well. Often, writing can feel like a waste of time – something we all want to avoid – causing a sense of pressure to get it right the first time. However, I have found this feeling to not be true. The scenes you don’t use are the ones you learn from the most. Not just about the mechanics of writing, but of your characters and story’s world.
Navigating the Middle
Here are two things I have learned that help me navigate and map the vast middle portion.
- Brainstorming and outlining: Enjoy the endless possibilities the middle has to offer instead of being overwhelmed. Start by choosing an idea, any one works for brainstorming. See where this path leads. Jot down big picture notes along the way in case you like something specific. Try this with each idea. Soon you will have a map of the many routes your characters could take from act one to act three. The choice then comes down to your favorite. I have found that embracing and exploring the options -instead of being locked into one immediately – makes writing the middle flow smoother.
- No scene is a waste of time: Some ideas will lead you to dead ends. I recently wrote such a scene and felt deflated and frustrated afterward. However, I realized that it was as if this idea led me to a vista. Here I could see where I had been and where I wanted to go. It was a vantage point! I was able to identify what didn’t work and why and was able to apply that to the next idea, which ended up working quite well.
Even if an idea leads you down a dead-end path, sometimes we just have to write them for ourselves. This information will not go unused even if it doesn’t make it into the final cut. There is a depth of complexity that aids us as creative writers when we can see any scene from multiple angles. The more you write about your story’s world, whether it be a fantasy realm or not, the stronger your knowledge of it becomes and it will show in the final draft.
While the middle is the largest chunk of your book, I encourage you to tackle all that it has to offer. I hope this helps you to face your current writing struggles and that soon you will find the best-suited path to get you going again. Writing a novel is a journey and adventure like hiking any trail.
Alexandra Ely grew up in the High Desert of California where she played outside, cultivating the imagination she uses for her creative writing to this day. In high school she studied under an old Russian playwright who taught her the delicacies of storytelling. She continued to pursue novel writing in college.
This September Alexandra and her husband will celebrate their ten year wedding anniversary and expect their second baby a few weeks after. Alexandra loves sewing historical fashion, baking sourdough bread, and would like to teach herself calligraphy someday so she can write epic Christmas cards.
Much of her nonfiction writing has been published in both local and national magazines and a prologue to an anthology published internationally. Publication for her fiction work is close at hand. Currently, Alexandra and her writing partner are querying their manuscript and on her own she is editing a second book with intentions to publish as well. You can hear a sample of her novel, The Mermaid Bride, on the Happy London Press podcast and find her personal instagram account @ely_landing and her collaboration account @loftonauthors.