Monday, February 11, 2013

What Makes a Good Middle? Part 2

by Stephanie Morrill

You can find part one of writing a good middle here, but as a refresher, last Thursday I covered that each scene needs to be building toward something, we need to see the plan underway, it's probably time to introduce a B storyline, the obstacles should be increasingly difficult for your main character, that you should consider a scene that reveals something good or bad about your character, and that your middle scene should feel bigger than others.

So after your big middle scene, here are some suggestions of what I've seen work in page-turners:

A time to renew the goal, to regroup, to plan.

After that big event, your character likely needs a moment to get his or her bearings. They might spend this time renewing their original goal or making a new plan of attack after a major set back. In The Hunger Games, think about Katniss and Rue sharing food while they plot to blow up the Careers' supplies.

Or in Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy's first proposal comes right in the middle of the story, and then he leaves the letter for Elizabeth that alters her perspective.

Obstacles and twists that continually move the main character closer to the climax of the story.

Same as your main character should choose to go on the original journey (see 7 Things You Need In The Beginning of Your Story for reference), entering the final battle works best when it's a choice as well. (It's a lot tougher to cheer for a main character who's reluctantly dragged off to the climax of the novel.) You want to take steps to lock your main character into battle with the antagonist so they can't back out.

Now, the antagonist doesn't have to be some sort of dark villain. In a romance novel, often the final battle takes place between the hero and the heroine. Or in a family drama type story, the final battle might take place between a mother and daughter or brothers. So when I talk about things like final battle and antagonists, I'm not just talking about wars and dark wizards.

Disaster and Black Moment

Along with a few obstacles and twists, it's a great time for a disaster of sorts. And maybe some of your obstacles or twists feel disastrous, but there's often a disaster bigger than others that leads to an "all is lost" kind of moment. This is also called the black moment, dark night of the soul, or whiff of death.

In Pride and Prejudice the black moment is when Lydia has run off with Mr. Wickham. Elizabeth has just come to realize how she feels about Mr. Darcy, and she knows that a man of his rank would never marry someone with a sister of such low morals. Plus Mr. Darcy has a bad history with Mr. Wickham and would never want to be his brother-in-law.

In Tangled it's when Rapunzel is convinced by Mother Gothel that Flynn traded her to the Stabbington brothers, and she returns to the tower.


Your character needs help to get out of their dark place. Maybe they literally need rescuing from their black moment, like in the movie Beauty and the Beast where Belle and her father are locked in the cellar and Chip busts them out with that crazy wood chopper thing. 

Or maybe instead they don't need literal rescuing, but they need someone to help brush the dust off their back, remind them of who they are and what they stand for, and send them back out into the world.

Your character makes a choice to engage in the final battle. This choice is the end of the middle.

This is the moment when Harry decides to go out and face Voldemort. When Katniss and Peeta leave the cave.

In a romance novel, the hero and heroine sometimes tag team these events. In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy is the one who makes the choice. He goes to great lengths to mend the relationships of Elizabeth's sisters.

Phew! Did you notice anything on this list that your story middle is missing or one that you routinely skip over in the first draft?

I've found that the easiest one for me to skip over or forget is to have my main character choose the final battle. My tendency tends to be to box her into it. What about you?


  1. Hmm. This actually helped me figure out who my antagonist is. It isn't a "who" at all: it's my main character's flesh. As in, the part of her that does not want to forgive.

    I actually did something weird just to see if it would work; I wrote the ending of my book while I was still in the beginning. It worked! So I've actually written the "final battle." And yes, she chose it. :)

    Thanks for the awesome post as always! :D

  2. Thank you so much for this! I knew my current WIP has some serious problems in the middle, and this post is definitely going to help! Thanks a million.:)

  3. The part I have trouble with is throwing in obstacles and twists to raise the stakes for my MC. Now I'm revising, I need to find ways to add more tension and build up to the climax.
    Thanks for the great post!

  4. I need to make sure my climax is big enough that it stands out as the worst of the worst; a bigger deal than the rest of the twists. I always have a hard time thinking of a climax, even when I know how I want the book to end. Thanks for the post Stephanie!

  5. I don't have a final battle. That might be a problem. I'm still in the beginning of my story, but I have a black moment and a resolution without a final battle. Do you usually know the final battle at the beginning of the book or can it magically reveal itself sometime later?

  6. I have a climax! Yay! Sorry, but I've never actually done this much real plotting before . . . I'm generally good at the black moment, and so far providing lots of obstacles. So far, I think I'm doing pretty well. Thanks for the post!

  7. Number two made me think of Veronica Roth saying she always wanted Tris to be the "agent" who was making choices and causing things to happen. I think that's one of the things I love about the Divergent series.

    Gotta love the crazy wood chopper thing!

    I'm with you on the choosing the battle FMC chose to get out of the end battle and ended up being vetoed into it in a roundabout way. :)