One of my quiet pleasures when it comes to writer workshops is getting the chance to interact with other writers and give them some tidbit of information that puts their process in motion. Everyone needs that boost now and then - I certainly know I need the periodic shot in the literary arm - and when I can be the one administering the shot, well, it's a great feeling. I had that opportunity the other day, and it reminded me of a simple technique that keeps me on track when I write larger pieces.
That's an important question to ask, and not just after the first hundred pages. It helps us to do periodic check-ins with our story to see where we are, and most importantly, to make sure we are still writing the same story. Sometimes we get onto such writing streaks that we put together scene after scene, event after event, and it all seems to flow naturally. Then we catch our breath and realize we have wandered away from the story we originally wanted to tell. Oops. In all the excitement we ended up getting lost.
The remedy I use for this is fairly simple, and I usually don't wait until I am half-way in to apply it. When I set out to take on a project, I summarize my idea for the work into one paragraph. Just one - if I need more than a paragraph, I probably don't fully understand the project at hand. Then I create one sentence that describes the underlying theme of the work. It can be a long sentence, but go for short and succinct if possible. Now, take that paragraph and that sentence, print them out, and put them in plain view of whatever workspace you use - the most confrontational place you can find.
These two source will be your True North. When you write any scene, shape any dialogue or move the plot along, ask yourself how it applies to that paragraph, and make sure it follows the spirit of the sentence. Let your guides be the one paragraph and one sentence, and don't write things that wander away from them.
That's the catch. When you write a scene and ask, "How does this fit into the paragraph?" be honest with yourself. Don't try to square-peg it into place. If it doesn't fit or you really have to bend your ideas to make it fit, maybe it shouldn't be there. Maybe it needs rewriting. Or maybe you've wandered off-track and need to find your way back to the story.
One paragraph, one sentence. Those are all you need to guide you along your story's path. They rest, as they say, is just writing.