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1. Midpoints: A Breakdown

A couple of months ago, I wrote a post about Inciting Incidents that seemed to be helpful for a lot of our readers at PubCrawl, and I’ve had a few requests to continue dissecting story beats. So I’ve decided to tackle the next one on my list: The Midpoint.

I am sort of making up my own story beats here, loosely cobbled together from Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat, K.M. Weiland’s website Helping Writers Become Authors, and our own PubCrawl alumna Janice Hardy’s Fiction University. I myself don’t actually adhere to story beats all that strictly when I’m drafting; I figure the beats out when I revise.

I know a lot of writers struggle with middles, but I’m actually not one of them. For me, the middle of the novel is simply an extension of the beginning, and in fact, I tend to think of my books more or less in halves: the beginning, and then the end. The point that delineates the beginning from the end is the midpoint.

First of all, let me say: there is no wrong way to write a novel. Write however works best for you. For me, my stories tend to naturally structure themselves into four acts, with three inflection points: Revelation (end of Act I), Realization (end of Act II), and Resolution (end of Act III). The Realization (end of Act II) generally tends to be my Midpoint.1

So what is the Midpoint, exactly? Why is it given such emphasis in all these story structure/plot books? I mean, a middle is just the boring bridge between the opening and the ending, right?

Personally, for me, the Midpoint is the moment of greatest change; in fact, I would argue it is the top of the mountain of your story arc. Everything builds up to it, and then everything unravels from it. The Midpoint is what the beginning of your novel is working towards and what the ending of your novel is working from. Because of this, I actually think the Midpoint of your novel is where your story reveals itself.

What do I mean by that? I mean that the sort of plot point/character development that is your Midpoint2 reveals the type of story you’re writing. The “point” of your book, as it were.

For example, in Pride & Prejudice, the Midpoint of the novel is when Darcy sends Lizzy a letter, explaining himself after she has turned down his offer of marriage. Until she reads his letter, Lizzy has been staunch in her prejudice against Mr. Darcy based on a bad first impression, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. Suddenly, she realizes she has interpreted all his actions incorrectly due to a mistaken pride in her own cleverness.

And there you have it, the entire point of Pride & Prejudice, as neatly summarized by the Midpoint.

The Midpoint is often referred to as a Midpoint Reversal, because there is often some sort of reversal of fortune or big twist or some other reveal that changes the entire context of the story (as in the case of Pride & Prejudice). However, not all Midpoints involve a reversal of some kind. For example, the Midpoint of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone3 is when Harry discovers just what Hogwarts has been protecting: the eponymous stone itself. And there you have it: the point of the first Harry Potter book.

All stories, regardless of how they’re structured, have Midpoints. They may not fall in the exact middle of your book, but they are in that neighborhood nonetheless. Without them, you have a “sagging middle” and, I would argue, no actual point to your story.

So there you have it: Midpoints! Are there any other story beats you guys would like for me to cover? Sound off in the comments!

  1. There are many, many, MANY ways to structure your novel. Traditionally, Western movies and screenplays are divided into three acts. Plays are often one or two acts. Tragedies can be five acts. Far Eastern narrative structure tends to fall into four acts.
  2. And to be honest, the Midpoint is the one of the few places in your manuscript where the plot point and character development should be the same thing.
  3. I HATE that the title was changed for the U.S. edition; it makes absolutely no sense to call it a “sorcerer’s stone” when a philosopher’s stone is a real thing.

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2. When to Pop Out of the Notebook

As much as I LOVE notebooks, even I have to admit there is a time in every writer's process when it is time to pop out of the notebook and onto a laptop or lined paper.

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3. The Next Big Thing Meme

The fabulous Lori M. Lee tagged me for this one! I'm going to cheat a bit and tell you about both my about-to-be-published book and my WIP, because ERMAHGERD, guys, I'm so excited for both of them. Okay? Okay.

(Side note: those of you who have added my book on Goodreads, THANK YOU, but that isn't the official Goodreads page. My publisher didn't make it. And whoever did mixed me up with another author, so...yeah. Not me. I'll let you guys know when there's a book to add--it'll be around the time that I get to share my title with all of you!)


1. WHAT IS THE WORKING TITLE OF YOUR NEXT BOOK?


Still can't tell! But I CAN tell you that I submitted it as FOR EVERY LIFE, which is a reference to Newton's Third Law of Motion, and I CAN tell you that the title of my WIP is MEMENTO MORI, which is Latin for "remember you will die." Mori is also the name of my protagonist (who's dying. Shocker, huh?)


2. WHERE DID YOUR IDEA 
FOR 

THE BOOK 

COME FROM?


UNTITLED (we'll just call it that for now--isn't it easier?) actually began as two short stories--one about an abandoned imaginary friend, and one about a girl who tries to commit suicide. UNTITLED is their lovechild. I'm not sure where the ideas for the two original short stories came from, but I knew there was a connection between them and I knew I wanted to develop that connection into a full-length novel.


MEMENTO, on the other hand, has been sitting in the back of my mind for...a year? Two? I don't remember where the idea came from, or when I got it, but I remember thinking, "I have to write this story. I have to." 



3. IN WHAT GENRE DOES YOUR BOOK FALL?



UNTITLED is YA contemporary with a touch of magical realism. MEMENTO is YA contemporary with a touch of ice cream (or a lot of ice cream).



4. WHAT ACTORS WOULD YOU CHOOSE TO PLAY THE PART OF YOUR CHARACTERS IN THE MOVIE RENDITION?



Something about UNTITLED: there are no descriptions of the character's appearances. None. I want people to be able to see themselves in Liz and Kennie and Julia. I want them to be able to see their friends. I want the characters to be anyone, everyone. So no actors :)

As for MEMENTO....I don't know I'm just really bad with actors and stuff okay LEAVE ME ALONE




5. WHAT IS THE ONE-SENTENCE SYNOPSIS OF YOUR BOOK?



UNTITLED is about a girl who tries to end her short and catastrophic attempt at life, told from the perspective of her abandoned imaginary friend.

MEMENTO MORI is about a girl with half an immune system, a boy with half of his muscles, a cat named Schrödinger, and the road trip they take to solve the paradox of life.



6. WHO IS PUBLISHING YOUR BOOK?



UNTITLED is coming out in fall of 2014 from Greenwillow/HarperCollins. MEMENTO MORI is not currently under contract.



7. HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO WRITE THE FIRST DRAFT OF THE MANUSCRIPT?


I wrote the first draft of UNTITLED during NaNoWriMo 2012--so, a month. I'm actually super proud of that, mostly because November was a rough month for me, and I was under word count the entire time. I managed to pound out something like 13K in the last two days. Then I revised for about two months, and it sold the following February.

As for MEMENTO...well. I've been drafting for the last four months or so, and I have about another 15K to go.


8. WHAT OTHER BOOKS WOULD YOU COMPARE YOUR STORY TO WITHIN YOUR GENRE?



UNTITLED: BEFORE I FALL meets THIRTEEN REASONS WHY

MEMENTO: Hmmm....I'm not sure. My CP says it reminds him a bit of THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, except, you know, far less AMAZEBALLS.



9. WHO OR WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WRITE THIS BOOK?



"Isn't this basically the same as question #2?"

Lori's answer, which I'm seconding. 



10. WHAT ELSE ABOUT THE BOOK MIGHT PIQUE THE READER’S INTEREST?



UNTITLED is told by an imaginary friend, which opened up these incredible options for the story. The story is actually told in a non-linear fashion--there are three main times: a countdown from seven days before Liz crashes her car, a countdown of the hour before Liz crashes her car, and the day after Liz crashes her car. And there's a chapter with eleven words. I love that chapter.

In MEMENTO, Mori has written letters to the dead for as long as she can remember, and the book is actually her last notebook of letters. Among the addressees: Maurice Sendak, Gregory Peck, Nannerl Mozart, Georgiana Cavendish, and, of course, Schrödinger. I really love playing around with narration (have you noticed?)

I'm tagging fellow Greenwillow author Chessie Zappia, whose book ASK AGAIN LATER sounds totally amazefrackingballs and Mark O'Brien, because he's working on this new MS that I want everyone to be excited about. Take it away, guys!

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4. Using the Cut-and-Tape Method to Draft

As a district, we have experimented with several ways to get students' writing out of the notebooks and into a draft. This is one of those ways.

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5. Flash-Drafting Leads to Large-Scale Revision

Flash-drafting helps get thoughts down on the page quickly so writers are open to large-scale revisions.

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6. An Eraser-Free Workshop and the Language We Use for Talking About It

When I visit a classroom, one of the first things I often say to kids is, "Today, please don't erase. I want to see ALL the great work you are doing as a writer. When you erase, your work disappears!" Often, this is what kids are accustomed to and they continue working away. But sometimes, kids stare at me as if I've got two heads.

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7.

So someone is suing Ms. Rowling for a billion dollars (or some other ridiculous amount) again because they think, 'The Goblet of Fire' rips off some unknown book from the 1990s. That and a line in my current WIP made me wonder if we'll see more of these claims now that so many writers are blogging excerpts from their WIPs - obviously, I don't mean the wonderful people who visit my blog because we're all sane. Well most of us are and those who aren't, well you know who you are. Okay, must stop looking at myself in the mirror, anyway...

I read a line on an LJ blog a week or so ago and I thought, 'not bad' and a few people commented on this person's rather cool line/idea. Cue a few days later, while redrafting Grim Glass Vein, I read a similar line (not the same words but running along the same theme) in the second draft. Now, I am the sort of person who worries about things that most (rational) people would ignore. So, I went into a spin as to whether I should remove this line - after all, it's one sentence - but it is kind of pivotal to the story line and it's good and well, I came by it honestly about three to six months (the previous draft was composed sometime between Aug 09 and Nov 09) before reading this other person's line. The crux is though, prove it...

And thus, I worry.


*The wardens shouldn't unlock my cell door and let my thoughts escape, but I pay them very well.
**Thank goodness I'll never make squillions and no one will ever want to sue me. Oops, shouldn't really tempt the gods, my bad.

12 Comments on , last added: 2/24/2010
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8. First Draft Writing

When I was first learning about Writing Workshop, it was difficult for me to wrap my head around the process each student would be going through. I spent a lot of time thinking and re-thinking the writing process and the way it would become individualized. Going from idea to notebook to draft to publication seemed [...]

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9. WIP Wednesday - Draft Dodger

Dear First Draft,

I appreciate that you don't 'do' perfection and that your purpose is to get the story down on paper regardless of pretty words or sensible sentences. But leading someone into a lair (I know it's an undertakers, but seriously!!!) and following it by having a character say our MC has a 'similar, vicious soul' to the big bad of the book when she quite clearly doesn't and never did have. I think I just vomited... Or rather, you did.

Your 'sixteenth chapter' sucks big time.

Cate xxxx

PS On second thoughts, the kisses are removed.


Dear Second Draft in Progress,

You know removing 'lair' and 'vicious soul' is okay, but you really haven't got to grips with what's happening in this scene. It's all blah-blah-BeingDeathisPoop-blah-ScaryManDoesn'tUnderstandMe-Blah-IDon'tUnderstandMe-SeveralMoreParagraphsofBlah.

Cate

PS You've yet to earn your kisses.

15 Comments on WIP Wednesday - Draft Dodger, last added: 4/22/2010
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10. Highlights from the Week

I have been in a lot of different writing workshops lately. Just this week I’ve been in 13 writing workshops and have met with 13 different teachers in either reflective practice meetings or planning meetings. Therefore, I have SO MUCH I want to record. Which leads me to my current dilemma: what do I not [...]

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11. Taking Time to Reflect Leads to More Accurate Teaching Decisions

Today I found myself understanding the writing process more deeply. Primary writers work through the writing process by layering each phase on a single copy of their writing. They plan a story across pages, first touching each page and telling the story, then sketching. They draft by adding words to the pictures. They revise by going [...]

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12. Drafting

If you are a regular reader, you know a lot of my thinking lately has been about writing process, and specifically nudging third grade writers into more traditional drafts. Today’s post is a collection of my thoughts about drafting. I hope it is applicable to a range of writers — not a specific grade level. [...]

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13. It Feels Good…

It was one of those days where writing workshop just felt good. Here’s a little recap of the highlights. First thing this morning, I implemented the things I’m learning from Martha Horn from listening to her speak and from reading her book, Talking, Drawing, Writing, which she wrote with Mary Ellen Giacobbe. Writing workshop was [...]

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14. Best First Draft

When students move from their notebook to draft, I encourage them to write their best first draft. (Click here to see other posts I’ve written about best first drafts.) Something that I’m always… Read More

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15. Poetry Friday: An Ode to Brads

I liked the photo I attached to yesterday’s SOLSC Post so much that I tried to replicate it with another photograph of my crystal-like brads (aka: fasteners). Since it’s Poetry Friday, I decided to take another stab at writing an ode, which I haven’t tried since July. An Ode to the Crystal-Like Brads on My [...]

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16. Draft Plans for Literary Essays

My students are going to be drafting while I’m out of the room doing reading assessments this-coming Thursday. Hence, I’m a little bit panicked since I don’t like being out of the room on days when kids are selecting a seed idea or when they start drafting. (I have an amazing guest teacher… [...]

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17. Writing Things That Make Me Happy

1. Noticing the growth in a young writer: I conferred with one of my students today who fought with me tooth-and-nail at the beginning of the school year when it came to elaborating. Today, he had six pages-worth (double-spaced) of writing for his literary essay draft! This makes me happy. [...]

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18. Another Way of Responding to Student Writing

My comments about a student’s memoir (draft one) Originally uploaded by teachergal This is the other way I respond to my students’ drafts for all assignments. I always attach a short narrative with my thinking about their writing. It’s almost like having a mini-conference (except [...]

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19. I’m sitting reading memoirs…

My students’ first drafts (of their memoirs) are filled with truth and emotion. I started reading them yesterday during Workshop time since some of the kids went home and completed them for homework. Then, I read some last night and began again this evening. Though I cannot scan them and post them [...]

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20. Shifting Gears: From Drafting to Revision and Editing

Poetry is one of my favorite genres to teach. I simply love the way the genre empowers ALL kids to have success with their words. (Quite frankly, I wish I could teach it in November, right before personal essay, but for some reason it never happens that way! Making it the last [...]

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21. Moving from Storyboards to Drafts.

In Keith Bollman’s fifth grade class, students are beginning to consider moving into drafts.  They’ve envisioned their writing and are moving out of the rehearsal stage and into drafting.  Today I taught them how to stretch a scene.  The Great Pumpkin Switch by Megan Mcdonald and Ted Lewin  is one of the texts in play in the [...]

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22. Learning More About Conventions Through the Close-Study of a Text

I’ve been thinking a lot about conventions and their importance. Without proper conventions, how can a piece of writing hold its own? All of our young writers need to realize that published writers use conventions when they’re drafting, not just as an editing tool. There’s a new book coming out on Tuesday, [...]

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23. Feedback

My students and I agreed to a form that I would use to provide them with feedback on the drafts of their research-based essays.  We decided that it was a comprehensive way for me to quickly inform them whether their writing was clear and factual on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis (They’re only turning in the three [...]

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24. Feedback

My students and I agreed to a form that I would use to provide them with feedback on the drafts of their research-based essays.  We decided that it was a comprehensive way for me to quickly inform them whether their writing was clear and factual on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis (They’re only turning in the three [...]

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25. process

“How do I know what I think until I see what I say.” E.M. Forster once said.

Right. I’ve got to see it. Sometimes I have an idea, occasionally. Most of them aren’t very good but every once in a while I’ll get one I like. But the idea is always out of focus. The way for me to get it into focus is to write. I don’t know what the thought is, how it fits beside other thoughts, until the act of writing allows me to try to make sense of it.

When we’re in the final stages of a manuscript we need to be analytical but at first we have to get words, lots of words, on paper. So for me the drafting stage (those usually three misshapen and embarrassing attempts at a true draft) should rely on intuition more. I don’t mean that you don’t worry, think, consider, struggle with choices, use all the skills you have, but that you do your best to get to that altered state writing requires and BE THERE in the manuscript. What happens should flow from your experiencing the world through your characters, a more sensual than intellectual experience. Again, be there in the scene and your being there will help you know what to put in and what to leave out and where to go with the story.

Probably as you revise the manuscript, after drafting, you’ll need to be more analytical about the story. But you will still need to enter that altered state in places and BE THERE in order to make the scenes work once you’ve decided they belong. So these revisions, however many they are (I remember reading an interview with Hemingway where he said he rewrote the ending of one of his novels thirty times), will be some combination of analysis in both big picture and details and working locally in that altered, intuitive state. If you’re like me, you’ll probably rewrite certain parts five or ten times and others only a few. At any rate, you’ll go over the whole manuscript many, many times for language etc..

When you’re doing the final runs, that’s when you need to be analytical. You need to rely more on assessment rather than intuition though you’ll still, no doubt, be fiddling with the language. I always am. Making good sentences is a burden and joy.

Or so I think today.

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