Have you ever read a novel, watched a movie, or listened to an album that started beautifully, capturing your attention with brilliant writing, only to fall apart in the middle? Sadly it’s a common occurrence in modern day writing. Young and even more experienced authors alike construct a brilliant introduction to their work. Their premise line is jaw dropping; their protagonist set a phenomenal task, and their audience is left wetting their lips in anticipation. But the work trips and falters as the writer tries to blunder their way towards the thrilling conclusion they have been working on for months.
They have a brilliant beginning, and a masterful ending. But they’ve got no middle.
They have an unnerving calm, and a flood of catastrophic proportions. But their storm is weak and unbefitting of the destruction their impending flood will cause. The work seems unbalanced and just doesn’t sit right in the mind of their reader.
Every writer at some point has fucked up a script because their middle (or their storm) was utter shit. Myself included. It’s a common occurrence as a writer to be struck by a wave of inspiration, it hits you like a lightning bolt and sends your mind into overdrive. You can suddenly see your protagonist in all of his or her glory. You envision them standing before you, allowing you to take note of and shape their idiosyncrasies. The beginning of your story emerges, and more often than not you see the ending taking shape too. But you never see the middle. And you never will, because you’re not supposed to. You’re supposed to create it. Just as you would in the real world. You have your beginning: where you are right now. And you have your end: where you want to be. How you get there though is entirely up to you. That’s the magic of storytelling. That’s the purpose of being a writer. And that’s the purpose of this crazy thing we call life.
So why do so many of us make a mess of the middle? I mean, if we are going to continue down this path of exploring Aristotle’s rule of beginning, middle, and end, surely we should devote equal time and consideration to all three components? Why do we as writers often neglect to produce the same level of mastery in our storm as we do in the calm that comes before and the flood that follows?
For some, they deem the middle to be less important. Everyone remembers where they started and where they finished. They try to rush through it because no one ever gives a shit about anything that comes in between. True. In some cases; but not in great writing. Other writers have a relatively solid storm to begin with, but become victim to their own perfectionism. They approach a work with preconceived notions that they must adhere to industry averages in regards to word counts and take a lean, well written story and pad it out, adding filler until their once punchy script becomes lost amongst pomp and circumstance.
The middle is just as important as the beginning and the end. Just like the storm is just as integral to beautiful storytelling as the calm and the flood.
But as I said in my previous entry, I don’t think that Aristotle’s word choice is apt for today’s society. Well, certainly not in regards to the novels I create and consume. The middle and the storm are similar, yet inherently different. Each strikes at different chords of emotion within the reader’s heart and mind, soliciting a different response to the same passage of text. The middle sounds mundane, and maybe that’s where some writers go wrong. They view the middle simply as a centre point between two extremities. They view it as a bridge between the past and the future, devoting little time to fleshing it out correctly.
But the storm… The storm is the violent disturbance of the calm that leads to the torment of the flood. It’s a cacophony of disjointing noise and a flash flood of movement and light. The storm is a force to be reckoned with. It’s not simply a central point, but a devastating passage that demands its own respect. The storm is fast, brutal, and deadly. It is not something to be taken lightly.
So let’s continue on with our previous example from the calm…. Let’s talk about me.
Here’s my middle: Chris travels to New York from his home town in Brisbane Australia to chase down his dream of becoming a published author. He meets many great people and his work is accepted for review by a number of agencies. He arrives home to Brisbane and quits his job, moves into a new home and waits patiently for a phone call to say that his work has been accepted and will be put to print. After three months the call still hasn’t arrived and he grows increasingly anxious. He writes as much as he can to occupy his time and he finds himself partying more often. His heart skips a beat every time his phone goes off, praying that the call has finally arrived. And he does everything in his power to stop himself from thinking about the girl that he wants more than anything…
…my middle sucks. Once again, there’s a story to be told, it’s just not one that is going to immediately grab your attention. By viewing where I am right now as a middle, it immediately becomes mundane and reads as such. But when I start to view where I am as the storm and flesh things out a little more, we get this:
Chris travels to New York from his home town in Brisbane Australia to chase down his dream of becoming a published author. He meets many great people and his work is accepted for review by a number of agencies. He arrives home to Brisbane and quits his job, burning the last remaining tie to a failed relationship that left him broken hearted, and moves into a new home to re-establish a support network for his damaged mind. He waits for the call to say that his work has been accepted, but after three months it still hasn’t arrived. He gets close to achieving his dreams; real close. But success continues to elude him. He writes as much as he can, when he can. But it comes in waves of inspiration and shear creative desolation. He starts drinking often in order to cope with the stresses of his relationship issues and the pressure of waiting for his dreams to come to fruition. And try as he might to let go of the feelings he has for someone way out of his league, he can’t help but make an absolute fuckwit of himself over and over again in a desperate attempt to win the heart of the most beautiful girl in the world.
Better. There are issues there to be fleshed out and explored now. I’m stressed about my future as a writer, and I’m fucked up over a girl that I can’t have. So I drink hard liquor and I write. And I systematically destroy myself for fun. I go through moments of divine inspiration and moments of creative apathy where I could walk away from all of this for good. And I swing between the two at a moment’s notice.
My life is complex and there is enough happening there to build upon in order to create a beautifully disastrous flood. Which is perfect, because that is where we are headed next. The calm has given way to the storm, now the storm is building upon my issues and anxieties. The storm will build and build until we reach its eye and descend into the anarchy and chaos of the flood.