Posted in Exercises, writing

The Middle Bit

When it comes to a story, there’s three main parts to the plot: The beginning, the middle and the end. If you want to get technical, there’s an exposition, rising action, climax and  resolution. Regardless of what you call them, there’s one part that causes numerous headaches.

The middle. Writers everywhere struggle with getting from the opening to the ending.

The Saggy Middle is a common complaint among writers. We’ve all been there. The opening is great! The climax is dramatic. The resolution is perfect.

It’s that bit between the opening and the climax that’s not holding a lot of tension, causing it to feel lackluster and flabby. There’s a couple of reasons that might be, most of them structural in nature.

If you’re a pantser like me, beware of having too many detours in your middle. While it’s easy to wander through a lot of different scenes, make sure you’re taking a look at what each scene is doing for your plot. Do you really need it? If the answer is no, remove it. If it does add something, ask yourself if it’s in the right place: does it make sense in context with only the two nearest scenes? If not, move it to a more appropriate place.

If you’re more of a plotter and you’ve done an outline, then take at the tension in your scenes. If your characters aren’t facing obstacles, then it can seem like you’ve driven them into the climax with no real motivation to change. Take a look at whether or not you’ve got enough obstacles in the way of your characters. If you don’t, look at where obstacles would make sense and consider reworking the specific scenes.

No Idea What Happens Next is another problem with the middle, but it occurs most often in the actual writing process of an early or rough draft. You might know how to start the story, and you might know where it ends. What happens in between can be a bit fuzzier.

In this case, try making a list of things that could happen. They don’t need to be an outline, or even logical–just start listing things your characters could do. Let your inspiration wander freely down this list. Remember you can come back later and take out anything that doesn’t fit.

Once you have a list of at least five things, set a timer for fifteen minutes and write a scene as if each of those things is what happens next. Which ones are you more inclined to keep writing on?

 

Posted in Stories, writing

Short Story: Prior Engagements

Romance, Everett decided as he stomped down the altar’s runner, was entirely useless.

He’d spent more than two and half years courting Miss Lavender, and now today of all days, she announced she wouldn’t be marrying him.

Not even to his face.

She’d sent a letter.

The last six months of wedding preparations had to be undone. At least half of what he’d spent was permanently lost. That much he’d expected for some places, especially for the church. They used the fees and money to help keep the church in running order.

The fact he’d had the priests offering their condolences as if someone had died was what bothered him the most.

He yanked the church doors open, striding outside without looking at what lay behind. A yelp and he fell backwards, having collided with someone on their way in.

“I’m so sorry.”

Her voice was gentle and Everett looked up. Her basket had spilled, dried flowers and a few carefully letter papers littering the steps. All the same, she held a hand down to him.

“It’s not your fault,” Everett said. “I shouldn’t be letting my temper get me into a mood to stomp around.”

She smiled as he took her hand. He hardly needed the help up, but accepted. Everett straightened his vest and bent again, scooping up the things he’d spilled when they’d collided.

“Thank you,” she said. “Although, may I ask what has you in such a mood?”

Such a light, gentle tone, like kisses from the air. He had to chuckle, a little darker. “My bride-to-be had decided she won’t be marrying me. I’ve spent most of the day running around and trying to undo all of the wedding preparations. I…” He glanced back at the altar.

It looked like any other day of the week with how it was set now. Three bowls. One each for the land, the sea and the sky. On his wedding day they would have been surrounded by sprays of flowers and ribbons. Their rings would have been blessed in each bowl before they were allowed to place them on their fingers.

Thoughts for another time, Everett decided and turned with a shake of his head. “I am sorry,” he said as she counted her papers. “Like I said, I shouldn’t be letting my mood make me stomp around.”

“For something that heartbreaking, it’s understandable. Just, perhaps, be a little more observant before you run into someone else, please?”

The soft smile on her face melted some of his anger away. “Of course,” he said. “I—I’m so sorry, I don’t even have your name.”

“Blair,” she answered and inclined her head. “And you’re Everett Atoll.”

“Uh—yes. I don’t recognize you.”

“I’d be surprised if you did. My father’s one of your newest business partners. Ashton Carrier.”

Blair Carrier. He’d not only run into a young, gentle woman, but Blair Carrier herself. Masterful writer and champion of charities across the region.

“I’m so sorry Miss Carrier,” he said. “Please, let me make it up to you.”

“Blair!”

That wasn’t her father’s voice but she turned towards it all the same. The man who came up had to be at least ten years older than her. He caught her hand with affection on his face. “Are you alright?”

“Fine, Jacob. A little mishap, nothing more. I just need to see these are handled properly and then we can get back home.”

Everett knew Jacob. He’d been introduced as a family retainer during one business meeting. Doubtless sent to help Blair with her errands today.

Jacob sighed and offered a mocking bow. “As the lady demands.”

Blair laughed and turned, lifting one side of her skirt as she bowed to Everett. “I have some things to see to. If you need help with anything, I’m happy to assist.”

He couldn’t hep but smile. “Thank you, but unless you happen to know someone in need of a white lace dress, I’m afraid everything else is out of my hands.”

“White lace? I might know someone,” Blair said.

“Really?’” It surprised him and Blair laughed.

“I do like having a few nicer dresses.”

“It’s—uh, perhaps I can help you here and show you the dress? It’s at Missus Cleary’s now.”

“I’d love to. Oh, Jacob. I’m sorry.”

Jacob however, held up a hand, a smile on his face. “It matters little and gives me time perhaps to ensure lunch isn’t forgotten before someone else finds a need of your aid for some reason.”

Blair laughed and shook her head before she turned another smile on Everett. “Give me the hour and then shall I meet you at Missus Cleary’s?”

“Absolutely,” Everett said. “Thank you.”

“The pleasure is mine,” she said and offered a little wave. He returned it as his mood lightened.

She vanished into the church and Everett gave himself a little shake while Jacob beamed after her. “She is a marvel,” Jacob said and inclined her head. “I’ll see to it that the cost of the dress is covered for Miss Blair.”

“It’s already paid for,” Everett said and turned. “I’m happier that I don’t have another reminder of my prior engagement hanging about. Perhaps I should have mentioned it was a wedding dress.”

Jacob chuckled as he followed Blair inside. Everett watched over his shoulder a moment longer before he shook it off. He’d get rid of the wedding dress—perhaps offer to have some alterations added so it wasn’t as clear what its intended purpose had been.

Besides, he decided, it was only Blair Carrier being the kind young woman she was known to be. It wasn’t as if Everett would be foolish enough to romance another woman.

Not at least, so soon after his prior engagement.


by A.J. Helms

If you enjoyed this, you can find more of my works by visiting my books page or picking up a copy of my newest release, Crimson and Gold for Kindle.

Posted in General

Revisiting Old Ideas

If you’ve been following me, you probably already know that for most of January, I didn’t have a main project selected. I prefer having one main project a month because it helps keep me focused and not as inclined to bounce around on several different projects. Because of the launch for Crimson and Gold, I never got around to selecting one.

I did however, a couple of weeks ago, go back through and take a look at my project list. I have far too many in-progress stories.

I also have several stories that have been drafted, but haven’t been touched in quite possibly, years. The oldest of these is a story I’ve hung onto from around 2013. If I recall correctly, it was the NaNoWriMo novel I wrote for that year. At fifty-thousand words, there’s a lot wrong with it.

For starters, the plot is a stretch, even with some heavy suspension of disbelief. The characters also flat, and character arcs largely don’t exist.

There are however, good points. The concept itself is still solid. The idea at its core has some merit. It’s merely bogged down in what’s unpolished writing. I’ll also note that it’s writing from seven years ago. I’ve gained a lot of new skills since I last wrote it.

Although I haven’t looked at it in those years, I have kept it on my project list, and I think it’s about time I took it back out and revisited it.

Starting with a complete rewrite.

Posted in writing

Word Confusion

There are some words that are all too easy to get confused. While there are entire lists debating how to keep them straight and offering helpful tips and tricks for pairs like lose and loose, there’s always a few more than slip through. And, dependent on which words you know best, you might be surprised at the ones that get mixed up. Here’s a few.

Definite vs Defiant 
Definite means something is clear and obvious. It’s applied to things like ideas or of a person’s certainty. Defiant however is the state of opposing an authority. It’s applied to things like young rebels and angry mobs.  You can keep them straight by remembering that defiant has an a to show anger.

Affect vs Effect 
The case of affect and effect is easy to understand: they’re one letter off from each other, and they both mean a change. Affect is a verb meaning to change or impact, where as effect is a noun meaning the end result of a change. If you can remember affect as the action, and effect as the end result, they’re a little easier to keep straight.

Lose vs Loose 
These two are ones I miss all the time. Lose is to fail or misplace. Loose applies to things that aren’t tight, or are unsecured (such as a loose dog). Loose has an extra o, making space for all the things that aren’t tightened.

Advice vs Advise 
These both have to do with giving opinions or information with the intent of guiding someone. However, advice is is a noun you receive from others where as advise is the verb you do when you give advice. Remember, take advice from a council and advise with a soft voice.

Desert vs Dessert 
Don’t get these two mixed up when you’re looking for a late night snack. Desert is a dry place of land. Dessert is a sweet treat. It’s easy to keep track: you want more dessert, which is why it has an extra s.

There are plenty of other words that get mixed up. If you’re ever in doubt about the word you’re using, try checking synonyms: if you get words that would make no sense in the context of your sentence, chances are you’re using the wrong word. It might also help for you to make a list of words you mix up personally, and make sure to check that you’re using the correct one when you’re editing.