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My biggest problem as a writer is that I always get inspired and then start writing from the middle, in particular scenes or moments which I think will be crucial. Climaxes. These scenes turn out really great, but then afterwards, when I try to go back and fill in the part between the opening and those scenes, it always turns out embarassingly awkward, much worse than my writing usually is. I can never really fix it, so what I end up with is a story that seems like some great writer hired a fourteen year old to fill in the gaps in his idea notebook.

I should clarify that it isn't so much writing the beginning that is my problem- my opening scenes are usually good- but the few pages between the opening and the first 'moment.' I've considered trying to figure out how to just not write those parts, but then it seems like the reader doesn't know the characters well enough for my good scenes to have the right impact.

What do better writers than me do to deal with this?

[I apologize in advance if this is a duplicate. I looked around but couldn't find a comparable question.]

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Before you know that you are starting "in the middle", you need to have an idea of the beginning and the end (otherwise how should you know that it is the middle and not the end?). Depending on how do you know beginning and ending, you maybe can take your opening (which is the beginning) and the middle part (as new ending) and try to write the middle part of these two. Sounds weird? Well... The hardest part of the job is fooling yourself into writing. –  John Smithers Feb 22 '13 at 20:15
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5 Answers 5

I had the same problem as well. I've got key scenes scattered here and there (though mine tend to be near the end) that inspire me, and no idea how to get there.

Sad to say, the only solution I've found is to write, throw it all away, and rewrite. Rinse and repeat many, many times. Even if it starts off as embarrassingly awkward, it's a base to work from.

Look at the scenes you've written. Can you change the setting so the action happens in a more interesting place? Can you introduce a new character, or reveal more about an existing one? What other conflicts can you add, or perhaps subplots? Can you develop an existing subplot? Or can you combine some of the existing scenes to make a single, more action-packed one?

You won't get this in the first go. Heck, you probably won't even get it in the second or third. But the key is to keep finessing, and keep rewriting. It sucks to throw out work that you've spent a lot of time on, but sometimes (okay, a lot of the time) it's the only way to improve. By your eighth or ninth iteration, you'll already have a good sense of what works and what doesn't, and those annoying in-between bits will read much better than before.

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There is an alternative: force yourself to write from the beginning. Use the giddiness to reach the scenes you have fleshed out in your mind as a motor to build awesome introductions.

It's like eating a dinner: starting with the ice cream and leaving the greens for last. Ick. Eat your greens like mother told you and get the ice cream last, savor it, remember fondly what you ate already and it will leave you with a great after-taste.

One of significant problems I face is that as the story unveils itself, in these slow moments, new ideas happen, new motives arise, and so the climax mutates, often turning out far superior to what I intended. An insignificant throw-away thread from the introduction resurfaces halfway through, returns in a strong cameo near the end, and then provides a heart-wrenching plot twist in the climax, unplanned and plugging a plot hole you realized only a chapter away from the climax. It really works better that way.

Eat your greens first. They are healthy.

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As a slight variation on this, you could start off with writing the key scenes first as a reference. FWIW I tend to start with them because they're what gets me excited enough to get onto my not-so-interesting lead-up scenes, then go back to the beginning and write everything from start to finish with those scenes in mind. Yes, the key scenes get rewritten in the process and they can change drastically. –  Lexi Feb 22 '13 at 13:49
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Depending on what kind of writer you are, you might benefit from creating an outline, and trying to hang your cool scenes on that.

Writing scenes which aren't connected to anything can be fun, and one of the reasons is that you aren't burdened by making it fit into a larger narrative. You haven't really established that X happened or Y character did Z thing, so you are entirely free to riff.

But when you're creating a larger narrative, you do have to think about how all the threads tie together. Sometimes that means your fabulously cool scene doesn't fit.

If you feel like you're jumping from Intro A to Cool Scene D and missing character notes in between, then spend some time out of the book getting to know your characters. Maybe creating a detailed backstory or interviewing your characters will help you to know them better, so writing scenes B and C don't fall flat or become a chore.

Other questions here which aren't duplicates but might be useful to you:

Do books have to be written in sequence?

How do I construct a plot out of my many setting/character details?

avoiding making all your characters sound the same

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+1 This answer to OP's question answered my unasked similar question. Thank you! (And extra special thanks for the useful links!) –  Souta Feb 28 '13 at 1:38
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I think most writers start out at least having in mind what the conclusion or climax of the story will be, and then have to figure out how to get there. It's hard to imagine how you'd write a story if you really started at the beginning and had no idea where this was going. I recall reading an article by the well-known science fiction writer Isaac Asimov once where he said that he usually starts out with a general idea, then comes up with an ending, then a beginning, and then last he writes the middle.

But look at it this way: You write the climax first, so you know where you're going. Now you have to figure out how to get there. To at least some extent, this should be obvious. Like, if you know you want the story to end with the detective revealing that the killer was Miss Scarlet in the library with the candlestick, then it follows that you have to start out with the discovery that there has been a murder and a character named Miss Scarlet. You'll have to create clues that Miss Scarlet was the killer, and let the detective find them. You'll also have to create red herrings that lead to someone else. Etc. That is, if you know where you started from and where you're going, that pretty much determines at least the broad outlines of what has to happen in the middle.

If your problem is that the path just gets dull, well, if I had some simple formula for how to write an interesting story, I'd be a rich and famous writer myself. The closest to a formula I can think of is: If it's boring, add some complexity. If the path from A to B is just too obvious, then add some detours. If it's too obvious that the hero will get the girl in the end, then introduce some complications so that the reader starts to think that maybe he won't, or at least that there are some difficulties to be overcome along the way. Think about how to make your characters more interesting. Introduce some character flaws, and then provide a way for the character to overcome them. Etc.

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Beginning in the middle is absolutely fine - in fact, how else could it be? We should come aboard the process 'in the middle, as onto a moving train' (I read this somewhere - it is either Gilles Deleuze or someone like him); how else can we seize hold of the story in its authentic form?

Personally, I can't imagine any way of starting to write a piece except to jump in at the middle! Lexi's answer - to write, and then to rewrite - is an excellent method. Where is the shame in improving on one's first random scrawls? We cannot expect, like Shakespeare, never to revise our work (and even his habit of never 'blotting' or amending his first drafts had its detractors - as his contemporary Ben Johnson put it, 'Would that he had blotted a thousand!').

There is one phrase that worries me in the question: 'particular scenes or moments which I think will be crucial'. Crucial to what? Do you already have a plot mapped out - Character A will do this, then do that, then the other thing? If so, I strongly recommend you reconsider this method. When we write, we learn; we feel our way into the world of the story. The inner logic out of which the narrative arises cannot be written out in our heads ahead of time - even if it were, what would be the point of writing the story? One could just as well tell the skeletal plot in a few words and then forget about.

The story will necessarily be inauthentic (at least, this is my experience) if we already know what is going to happen. We are not learning. The analytical side of one's brain has taken over way too early; the other side of our brain is the one we need when are writing a first draft - the one that muddles through, the bricoleur, the synesthesiac. It is this side that learns what the story is. The analytical side can come in later when the story is there already and needs to be improved.

Therefore: blindfold yourself, and leap! And begin in the middle - though for all you know, the middle may turn out to be the beginning, or the end, or no part of the story at all - a MacGuffin you will later discard.

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I won't downvote just on this one bit, but do understand that not everyone uses the "jump in at the middle" workflow. I have the opposite problem: great openings, great endings, very hard to connect the two. And while "discovery writing" (aka pantsing) may work for you, I literally couldn't write that way. There should be some discovery in a first draft, but I couldn't even begin without a thorough outline and extensive character studies. I had better damn well write out "the inner logic out of which the narrative arises" ahead of time, or I personally couldn't write my book. (cont'd) –  Lauren Ipsum Feb 22 '13 at 11:24
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The idea that "the story will necessarily be inauthentic if I already know what is going to happen" makes me laugh. My stories could not be authentic if I didn't know what would happen, in very great detail, before I ever booted up Scrivener. But that's my workflow, which is neither better nor worse than yours or anyone else's. The OP may or may not find your advice useful, but please don't make pronouncements about how every single writer's process must match yours or it's "inauthentic." –  Lauren Ipsum Feb 22 '13 at 11:27
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That's fine: you have a different experience and a different opinion. 'Every single writer' is a stretch, and your quote excises my parenthetical hedge ('at least, in my experience'). But I shouldn't quibble: you're right, the spirit of my answer is prescriptive. I won't edit it. I do think the method I use is better (not more efficacious: better aesthetic practise) than planning it out in advance. Now, I may be wrong; but it is my opinion, and I don't like to mince words. Better many points of view clearly stated than bland 'horses for courses'. Let a thousand flowers bloom, and all that! :) –  micapam Feb 23 '13 at 7:14
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