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.)
The concept of a book having a big middle scene is one I learned after I was a published author, so clearly it's not a "have to have" if you want to write a publishable book.
What do I mean by a "big" middle scene? This is a scene that falls in the middle of your book (as you probably guessed) and has a weightier feel to it. Sometimes it's an event that your character has been anticipating, or it might be something that comes out of nowhere and catches your character off-guard.
Here are a few elements that can make a middle scene powerful:
1. Something big is revealed.
In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy's proposal to Elizabeth—which is a complete shock to her—happens halfway through the book. On the tail of this proposal comes a tell-all letter that explains everything Elizabeth and the reader have misunderstood about Mr. Darcy's behavior.
As writers, sometimes our instinct is to keep withholding information from the readers until we get to that climactic final scene. Dropping a bomb in the middle and letting your characters sort through the collateral damage is a much gutsier way to write. It's also makes for a more rewarding book to read.
2. The main character hits a lowest of lows.
One of the best middle scenes I've ever noticed was in Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix. Things have been getting progressively worse for Harry, and it seems like there's nothing else that can be taken away from him until finally even the game he loves to play is ripped away by one of the villains. (That sounds rather trite when summarized, but it makes sense when you're reading the book.)
When I finished that chapter, my heart was so heavy for Harry that I thought, "I bet this is the middle of the book." Sure enough. The chapter ends on page 419 and the book is 870 pages long. That's pretty stinking close to the middle.
The middle of your story is a great time to have your character's world grow impossibly dark. Another effective way to pull that off is to have your character conquer something huge—a highest of highs—only to have the rug pulled out from underneath them in a different aspect of their life, leading them to the lowest of lows.
3. A moment of introspection.
Going back to Pride and Prejudice, after Mr. Darcy gives Elizabeth the letter and she learns all the ways she's been mistaken, Elizabeth is in torment over the mistakes she's made. How could she have been so wrong this whole time? How could she have let her prejudices cloud her judgment?
This is beautifully depicted in the 2005 film adaptation where Elizabeth stares at herself in a mirror while the audience hears Mr. Darcy's letter being read. The director used this to symbolize how Elizabeth is seeing herself clearly for the first time.
The middle of your book is a great opportunity for your character to turn inward. Even if you're writing a fast-paced thriller or adventure story, hitting the pause button—even briefly—while your character absorbs a truth about themselves is an effective way to draw the reader closer to the character and therefor raise the stakes.
4. A resolve to do something.
One of the more famous big middle scenes comes from Gone With The Wind when Scarlet returns to her family's plantation and finds it in a miserable state. Cue Scarlet's famous line, holding up the carrots, and declaring, "As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again!"
Regardless of what kind of middle your book has, when a character discovers a challenge and decides they will now do something because of it, you've set yourself up to write a strong second half to your story.
Can you point to a big scene in the middle of your book? If so, does it have one or more of these elements?