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 fears—a 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!