Monday, September 14, 2015

How to Write a Big Middle Scene

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.)

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 Elizabethwhich is a complete shock to herhappens 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 highsonly 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?


26 comments:

  1. I think my middle scene fits at least two of these requirements. I'm going to save this post to favorites so I can check some other middle scenes later. Thanks for the post, Mrs. Morrill. BTW--is the blog back to five posts a week?

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    1. Thanks for asking! We originally intended to go back to 5 days a week in September. But my "maternity leave" from the blog is making that a bit challenging. So for now we're sticking to M/W/F and then guests and special announcements on Tuesdays/Thursdays.

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  2. All the Harry Potter books have great scenes...that one always makes me cry! :( Boo Umbridge!
    I haven't gotten to my middle scene yet, but I know what it's going to be in my one book, and I think it fits all the criteria, which is cool. I'm not so sure about the rest of my WIPs; but I hope so!
    BTW, can you do a post on foreshadowing? When I look back on some books I've read, it seems like everything in there--absolutely everything--is foreshadowing of some kind...which it is, because everything in the plot has to lead to the conclusion. I'm getting a little confused over following the plot and letting the readers have a glimpse of what's going to happen.
    Harry Potter rocks! :)

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    1. Ah I think I know which scene we're talking about now... my edition has over 1000 pages so I didn't find it.YES, Harry Potter rocks!

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    2. Great question, LIly. I'll do a post on it, but briefly I'll say that for a lot of writers - most writers, I would guess - the cool foreshadowing stuff gets put in AFTER the first draft has been written. Not always, but it definitely gets ironed out in the edits. So don't worry too much about it in the first draft.

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    3. Ok. Thanks Mrs. Morrill!

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  3. My middle scene fits three of these description. It's when my MC finds that a person she considered her friend was really the enemy leader in disguise.
    Thanks for this post, Mrs. Morrill! It was very helpful!

    ~Savannah P.

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  4. Wow, so true. Dropping a heavy scene in the middle of a story gives your story more depth than waiting until the climax to cram in the big scenes. It also makes for a wilder ride for the reader. I think I've done this in stories without realising it and it's what made those stories really work for me. My wip needs some weightier scenes in the middle, I'm thinking. Thanks; this post is amazingly helpful.

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    1. I'm so glad! Yes, for some writers the big middle scene happens naturally. I'm sure it's because a lot of stories have it in there so we absorb the structure naturally.

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  5. I'm about to edit my big middle scene for one of my WIPs. It definitely has a big revelation (the answer to the question that my MC has been trying to figure out for the last 10K words, give or take), a moment of introspection (my MC deciding what to do with this information), and a resolve to do something (acting on that information).
    In my other various works . . . some have big middle scenes; some don't. Most don't. Most also probably should. I don't know.

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    1. A lot of mine don't either, Sarah. Even some of my published books. Or if they do, they weren't intentional!

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  6. Perhaps if when you hit the middle of your book and you feel that it's terrible, you can make something bad happen to your character and channel all of your emotions into them. What a way to make angst...

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    1. Ha! Sounds like it would be good for the story too :)

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  7. Great posts as always, Mrs. Morrill! I've never really thought about big middle scenes, so this was an interesting thought for me. My WIP has a few heavier scenes, but I never thought about a 'big reveal' or any of these ideas. I'll definitely give it a go :)

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  8. Ooh! I'll have to look for this in my current WIP! I know I have several startling things happen in one of my older projects ... As to my current WIP, I have this scene where my character returns to the loose ends of her past, only to get a taste of her own medicine as she is kidnapped by her mentor, who sells out all of her friends to revenge her love interest burning his ex-wife's house down. After escaping, she has to figure out several things and come to terms with what she has done.

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  9. Oooh . . . interesting. My WIP hasn't exactly got a firm timeline yet, because I'm only a chapter and a half in (it's the first one I've actually tried to finish, so pretty slow going), but I KNOW there are going to be at least two huge scenes. I shall bookmark this for when I get round to them.

    Thank you very much, Mrs. Morrill. Great post!

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  10. I LOVE THE 2005 PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

    *clears throat* Anyway.

    Great post! I have something of a reveal in the middle of my book as well as an event that takes the MC completely by surprise, but I've been thinking that I should up the action in the middle, so I'll definitely be looking for ways to add some more of these as I go back through. Thanks for the awesome post! :D


    Alexa
    thessalexa.blogspot.com
    verbositybookreviews.wordpress.com

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    1. It's definitely my favorite movie :) I'm glad you liked the post! Hope it's helpful.

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  11. This is so, so awesome and timely! Right in the middle of my draft now and these are all fabulous points to think about.

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  12. Great tips, Stephanie! I'm re-ordering my sequel right now so I'll have a great scene to lift up that middle. Gonna double check it to make sure I have all these things, too! :)

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