Monday, August 24, 2015

Writing the Middle of Your Book: Test #1

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the Ellie Sweet books (Birch House Press). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.

(This post is part of the Writing A Novel From Beginning to End series. You can find other posts from this series on the Looking For Something Specific? tab.)

Last week, I talked about putting the wheels in motion so that the reader understands why your character goes on his or her journey.

After this moment in the story, you've likely moved into act two of your book. Unlike beginnings and endings, which are smaller parts of the story and have clearer needs, the middle can feel far too vast. How do you keep the tension up? How do you keep your character moving forward without it looking like you, the author, are dragging them to the end?



The next few posts I write will deal with just that—surviving the middle of your book. Middles were once a confusing struggle to me, and I'll share what I've learned that's helped me.

When I get to the middle, the first thing I like to plan is a test for my character. Have you ever read a book where as the story moves along, you find yourself thinking, "Why is this character still at it?" Maybe we understand why they started on this path, but why are they staying on it?

This is something that this first test can help with. Unless you're dealing with a crazy government holding your character hostage in their situation, a la The Hunger Games, you'll need to figure out how to keep your character engaged in their journey so that the reader isn't thinking, "Why don't they just give up?"


Test #1: Oh, boy. This is hard.

Shortly after your character chooses their journey, it can be very effective for them to have a moment where they realize this is going to be harder than they thought. Maybe before they made this choice, they suspected it was going to be hard, or maybe they knew for sure, but now they've had a taste of it for real.

In The Scorpio Races, the scene that comes to mind is the first time Puck tries to train her regular horse down on the beach with the water horses and nearly dies.

In Tangled, Rapunzel walks right into one of her biggest fearsa roomful of "thugs and ruffians."

When your character is on their journey, what's the first event that tests their resolve?

Sticking power: But here's why I still have to do it.

You'll notice in many stories that after the first test comes the first deepening of resolve. The character is forced to dig deeper, to invest more, and to decide yet again if they want to pursue this path.

Going back to our previous examples, in The Scorpio Races, Puck comes home from the beach that day to an unwelcome visitor who tells her they're going to lose their house in a few weeks if they can't make the payments. The only chance Puck has to keep a roof over her and her brother's head is to win the races. Despite the hardship she just went through down on the beach, she can't drop out of the races now.

In Tangled, when the others at the pub recognize Flynn Rider as a wanted man, Rapunzel has to think quickly or she's going to lose her guide before they've even really started on their journey. She tells the others that she needs him because without him she'll never see the floating lights and she's been dreaming of them her entire life. And then, because it's Disney, they all sing a song together. 

The moment in Tangled, you might notice, is different in tone than The Scorpio Races. It's important to consider your genre, audience, and tone as you're testing your character. In Tangled, the real danger is Rapunzel's fear, and she must dig deep to discover that she is strong enough to face this fear of hers. That gives her the courage to press on. This is different than The Scorpio Races where the threat is a new one that comes from the outside and Puck finds that she might lose more than she initially realized if she doesn't pursue her goal.

What does your character learn either during their test or shortly after that keeps them pursuing their goal?

Special event announcement:

This weekend (Friday the 28th through Monday the 31st) we'll be holding an end of season celebration of sorts. I know many of you have already started back to school (half of my kids have) but our summer writing challenge runs through September 7th, and we thought it would be fun to have an organized "Get it done" type event where we can all work toward finishing up our summer goals. 

You don't have to have participated in the summer challenge to join us this weekend. Like our word wars, this will be a open-to-all, come-and-go, stay-as-long-as-you-can kind of event. All you need to have is an idea of what you'd like to get done (a certain word count? some editing? college essays?) and we can hang out together while we work. Plus there will be some fun giveaways. It doesn't get much better than getting stuff done and winning free stuff, right?

Hope to see you here!

40 comments:

  1. Great post. In my first draft, the story pretty much forces the main character to go along for the ride...of course, I'm completely going to change the plot in the rewrite as the first draft came out totally different compared to what I wanted.

    Hey, speaking of which--I recently finished my first draft! Yesterday, in fact. This is the first time I've actually done that, so I'm super excited. Also, finishing that draft was my summer goal...yeah, the story came out shorter than expected. Actually, my original goal was to reach 50k; I changed the goal mid-way when I realized the story wasn't going to be that long at all. In reality it came out at around 48000.
    Whoah, I've been rambling. I'll still be with y'all writing this weekend though, even if I have finished my goal!

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    1. That's great, Jonathan! Congratulations!

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    2. Great job, Jonathan! That's awesome! ~Savannah P.

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    3. Wow, that's fantastic! Congrats!

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    4. Great job! I'm still working on mine. :P

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    5. Wow, thanks you guys! Good luck on your story, Emily.

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    6. Congratulations Jonathan! That's a huge accomplishment!

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    7. Congratulations! That's a HUGE deal. And 48k is pretty sinking close to 50k :)

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    8. Thanks! Yeah, it's a pretty huge deal. :) So exciting!

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  2. I think I do a pretty good job on my middle. Kate decides to join her friends on their journey to find and destroy a sword, but their first stop is a foreign country. Kate is nervous. Then she discovers something that happened to her when she was a child and realizes she has a debt to pay to those who saved her. She decides to stick with it until the end.

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  3. Tests? Hmmm.... I suppose my character learns that the world will end if she stops fighitng for her goal. Which, I suppose, is a pretty good reason to keep going (unless you want the world to end or something).

    And I love The Scorpio Races!!! Just sayin'.

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    1. That's a great motivator. And The Scorpio Races is my new favorite book :)

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  4. This is a fabulous post-- and a lot to think about! In real life, we're put through tests all the time, every day, whether they be big or small. Hence, as writers, we should keep in mind that our MCs must endure the same if they are to be realistic. You put it all very nicely!

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    1. I'm so glad you found it a helpful way to think about things!

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  5. In the middle of my story, my MC pricks herself on a spindle (it's a Sleeping Beauty re-telling) but when she falls asleep, she falls into a dream world, where she meets two dream-people, Wish and Will, who claim to be different aspects of her. She doesn't like the two girls, and tries to get away from them and out of the dream, but after something happens, she realizes the only way out is to make amends with Wish and Will, and let them help her. Otherwise, she'll be stuck in the horrific dream world for the rest of her life.
    So that's basically the summary of the middle of my story :). And I didn't sign up for the challenge, but I'll definitely be joining you this weekend, it sounds like a ton of fun! ~Savannah P.

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    1. That sounds really cool. Everyone's stories are so interesting!

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    2. That sounds so interesting!!

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    3. Thank you both! I'm entering it in a contest (I think) so I'm trying my best :). ~Savannah P.

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    4. Very creative twist to the classic story!

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  6. Great post! I'm looking forward to the special event thing too . . . I've been too busy with moving to write much lately, so one of my goals hasn't really been accomplished. (But the main goal has been, so yay!) So, yeah. I need encouragement to write.

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    1. Hopefully this weekend will provide that!

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  7. My characters, who are searching for the Silver Leaf to cure the Sickness, learn partway through their journey that their traveling companion lost his family to the horrible disease. He's a very closed-off, hard man who doesn't mess around with what needs to be done, and when he finally opens up about his past and why he's on this quest to begin with, it's a big milestone-- for his relationship with the others as well as further inspiring them to find the Leaf to save other people from having to share this man's heartbreaking story.
    There are also other instances of the Sickness as they advance on their journey, and they witness some deaths caused by it (though I have plans to rewrite some of this, so I'm sure exactly how much will remain when I'm done).
    I love that you use Tangled as an example so often. It's one of my favorite movies ever. ;D

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    1. It's one of mine too!

      Sounds like you have done really great thoughts on how the story builds. Great work!

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  8. This is exactly what I needed. I have been looking for the inspiration to write for a few weeks now. Thank you!

    I'm doing this challenge on my blog but the challenge is actually harder than I thought. How can you write a life changing moment with no feeling?

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    1. I'm so glad, Bianca!

      I'm not sure what you mean with your question. Can you explain further?

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    2. My mother had an assignment from her comp. teacher to write a life changing moment without any feeling, kind of like emotions. You couldn't say how happy you were, or about how this was so heart-breaking. The reader had to assume what you were feeling.

      But I'm not sure how to actually write anything like that.

      Does that make sense?

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    3. I think what you mean, Bianca, is not writing with no feeling, but writing without telling. Showing vs. Telling is a big deal in the writing world. For example:

      I was so heartbroken.

      vs.

      I slammed my bedroom door behind me and slumped into the chair. Tears burned my eyes. Why couldn't they understand? I pressed my face into my arms, letting my tears stain my shirt.

      Obviously, that's a quick example. Here's a blog post that may help you as well:

      http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2014/04/how-to-show-your-story-instead-of.html

      Hope that helps you out !

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    4. Well, Linea took my answer :) Which is that I assume the exercise is about conveying an emotion without it being explicitly stated.

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    5. Authors/Writers are amazing. You both helped a ton! Thank you so much! :D

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  9. You work magic with your posts thank you so so much :)

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  10. My writing dried up so badly these past few weeks for no reason at all. I swear, I know exactly what I want to write, but when I sit down to do it, nothing comes out. Not even bad stuff. Nothing comes out. Seriously.
    All the same, thanks so much for this post! I've been trying to work on developing my plot some more (since writing isn't working so well right now), and this is definitely important stuff!
    Thanks!

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    1. Maybe hanging out with us this weekend will help get you in the groove again :)

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    2. I know exactly how you feel! For the past few months, my story has been getting on slowly, if not at all. I just can't find the motivation, and even when I do, I sit down and my brain goes blank! I've been trying to focus on the moment I'm writing right now, instead of worrying about everything else. Well, I hope you will have some luck soon!! :)

      ~Zoe

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  11. The main character in the book I'm working on (my first novel) is a young foal who realizes that the way she and her herd has been living may not be the right way at all. She is guided by the spirit horse that rules over the horses into the mountains to seek an answer to the questions no one else seems to care about. When she learns how truly difficult her journey is, and how fragile the world is, she questions whether the voyage was even worth it at all. But then the spirit horse comes to her and guides her. He tells her there is a danger coming to all the herds, and that she, with her young heart still so full of hope, is the only one who can unite the horses and save them all.

    Thanks for the post!
    ~Zoe

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  12. Great post! Writing the middle is often the hardest -- that seems to be where many manuscripts drag and lose their readers' attention. I like the questions you posed! I also love the concrete examples from Tangled. (I haven't read The Scorpio Races, but it sounds good.)

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