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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Middles, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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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. Meg Wolitzer: Mushy Middles: Or, That Part of the Book Where Everything Gets Vague and Repetitive, and How to Avoid It

Meg Wolitzer is a novelist whose books for adults include THE INTERESTING, THE TEN-YEAR NAP, THE POSITION, ADN THE WIFE. She is the author of a novel for middle grade readers, THE FINGERTIPS OF DUNCAN DORFMAN, and, most recently, the YA novel, BELZHAR.

A lot of workshops give writers micro-advice, but there’s a larger issue that hasn’t been addressed. Even if you fix a passage or sentence or beginning, you’re not taking care of what needs to be done. Punching up dialogue or adding a new scene gives you a good feeling, but it’s often cosmetic. Making those changes just makes your story marginally better.

Think of your work in a different way.

How did you lose that energy anyway? How do we let our books get that way?

"The middle is everything."

Meg thinks it’s often a foundational problem when you have a mushy middle.

All books start off with a grandiose fantasy. You know it’s good because it’s something preoccupies you. You want to write about it. You take it and start to push the story through an invisible funnel and you realize you can’t do everything and you have to make some choices. This is a moment when you getting serious about your novel. You can write about 80 pages of a book (without outlining), not worry about where it is, who’s going read it, if someone someone will buy it, etc. Once you have, print it, read it, and find out not what you hoped to do but what you really did.

If the writing is weak in a certain area it might be because the ideas in that section aren’t strong. Maybe it’s because you didn’t know what you wanted to express in that section.

Meg thinks flashbacks are a made up concept. In real life, we are always toggling back and forth from past to future and now. You don’t have a character stop and remember something. It should be fluid.

Ask yourself:

  • Is the voice strong?
  • Are you being faithful to a thought process that isn’t working? (why the 80 page rule works)            -you can use ideas that don’t work
  • Did you get off on the wrong track tone wise?
Revision is the greatest tool in the writer’s arsenal.

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3. The Middle

In this current revision phase, I’ve finished up the first part of my novel and now delving into my *most* favorite part — the dreaded middle.

I’m a plot chick so it has taken me a few revisions to get the logic of my rules and world right. I can’t move further until this is done. Now for this revision, I’m focusing on character development, which tends to solidify later for me.

The middle of your novel is a great place to really dig in and reveal your characters to your readers. The middle is where you can make use of flashbacks in a scene structure, reveal the dynamics of relationships, and most of all identify the protagonist’s yearning.

You’ve hooked your reader with the first part. You’ve set up the situation, introduced the inciting incident and changed the protagonist’s world. Now in the middle, you can reveal the layers of your characters — but the trick is also having a strong plot line that still keeps the reader intrigued.

It’s a delicate balance.

How many of you are working on your middle? Do you dread it? What do you concentrate on when in you’re in this part of your novel?

5 Comments on The Middle, last added: 8/11/2010
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4. 3-D Writing

Still working on the middle for this revision round (which is starting to feel like a rewriting round but I digress, ha).

I was looking at my library of craft books to glean any kind of advice and inspiration to push me through to the last third of this novel, and I came across one of the classics: Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway.

My copy is dog-eared and I didn’t know there is now a seventh edition — I still have the fifth edition. This book is special to me because it’s one of the first books I bought when I started my writing journey.

I flipped through the pages reading highlighted passages and came across a passage where Burroway talks about story structure and the importance of plot in what she tagged 3-D writing:

“…there is both intense desire and great danger to the achievement of that desire; generally speaking, this shape holds good for all plots. It can be called 3-D: Drama equals desire plus danger.”

In the margins I smile at my loopy handwriting: “Love, love, love this!”

Yes, I tend to be dramatic but it does makes sense. You need all three elements to capture a reader into a story and keep them there — especially in the middle.

Now I’m going through my novel’s middle to make sure my writing has these elements. Easier said than done, but I’m trying to make it happen.

How do you make 3-D writing happen in your novels? Would love to hear some of your strategies — especially any of you writers working in the *long* middle.

2 Comments on 3-D Writing, last added: 9/29/2010
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5. Letting Go

As writers when we’re working on a project, we can sometimes get that laser focus on how we want things to turn out. It’s always good to have a plan right?

But what if the writing isn’t going according to plan? Do we push ourselves to continue writing on the original path? Fight the urge to try something new?

This is happening to me and it’s very frustrating. I *know* how I want this novel to turn out but now that I’m revising the middle, I’m questioning if this is truly the way it should go. But If I go on this new path, I may have to chunk some parts of the ending.

Right now, I’m reading a great book, The Writing Warrior by Laraine Herring. I came across a passage that spoke to me about my issue. I was struggling with my writing and what I needed to do was let go.

“Paradoxically, this letting go allows you to do more, experience more, and create more than you will if you are fixed on a specific end results. [...] Releasing desire for results allows you to be open and more accepting of what you find along the way. You will not be as quick to discard things just because they don’t fit your planned outcome. And often, what you do end up with is far more wondrous than you could have imagined for yourself.”

So if you’re finding yourself fighting against something in your novel, let go of it and see where your writing takes you.

5 Comments on Letting Go, last added: 10/5/2010
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6. Mushing Through the Days (and Middles) of our Lives


I am unabashedly a Big Jeanne Marie Grunwell Ford Fan.
Like our readers and my fellow TA’s, I shall sorely miss her Monday posts.

 
Who else but Jeanne Marie could spend her days telling the sentimental soap opera saga of the rootable Hortons – “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives!” - while grounding our TeachingAuthors readers in the Truthful Realities of her Every-Day’s-a-Balancing-Act Writer’s Life?

No wonder my Favorite Jeanne Marie post is “The Middle,” with her March 15, 2010 “Job Description” a close second.

“In life,” Jeanne Marie wrote in her January 2 New Year’s post in 2012, “it occurs to me that we tend to focus a tremendous amount of our energy and attention on beginnings and endings -- the weddings and the funerals, as it were.  But it's the vast middle that comprises the bulk of our existence.  Likewise, in writing, we start with an idea -- a character, a situation, a premise.  Usually we know where we want to start and where we want to go.  But it's the getting there that makes the story, breaks the story, or too often stops us from finishing the story.  After the sexy thrill of the beginning fades, we must still live there, in the treacherous middle, for a very long time before we can ever type THE END.
“Ain’t that the truth!” I sighed.

It just so happens, speaking of soap operas, I am the Susan Lucci of Children’s Books.
I know all about Middles.
My Children’s Book Writing Quest had a Middle so vast, four American Presidents came and went, and two were re-elections.

My Beginning was terrific.  It got me going.
My Ending was even better than I’d – continually and creatively - imagined.
Making it through my Middle, though, proved my mettle.

Because that’s what Middles do, be they the sagging centers of the stories we write or the seemingly never-ending mid-sections of the writer’s story we’re living.
They prove our mettle, as in strength of character and spirited determination.
Think courage, bravery, guts, grit, nerve, pluck, resolve, valor, vigor and cojones.
Everything our Heroes and Heroines must do we must do too.
We keep on keepin' on.

At the end of Jeanne Marie’s post, she shared her writing mantra – “Slow and steady,” giving me another opportunity to shout “Ain’t that the truth!”


As luck would have it, while thinking about Middles and today’s post, I received my daily email from marketing guru Seth Godin.  It was titled “The Red Lantern.”  Thank you to my writer, Dr. Carol Swartz of UNC Charlotte, for connecting me to this brilliant blog and thank you, Seth Godin, for gifting me with the perfect ending to my Jeanne Marie tribute.

The Red Lantern Award is presented to the Iditarod musher who makes it through that grueling event's middle and finishes... last.  Godin put forth that this type of award should be offered more often, for all sorts of endeavors - school projects, performances, competitions. 

This year, the Red Lantern Award was presented to rookie musher Christine Roalofs on March 17.  She and her team made it to Nome from Willow in 13 days, 22 hours, 36 minutes and 8 seconds.
That’s a whole lot of sand (and snow and mud) through the hourglass!

Thank you, Jeanne Marie, for grounding me in the Real World these past four years.  You kept me keeping on.

Onward and mush!

Your Fan Esther Hershenhorn

3 Comments on Mushing Through the Days (and Middles) of our Lives, last added: 9/16/2013
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7. The Leaden Mean


What is it about middles? I don’t mean the bit of flab that sits where one’s waist ought to be, but the middle of a novel (where in truth there is often a bit of extra padding where the plot should be.)

Normally I like middles – I mean the middle of a sandwich is always the best bit – as a kid I never ate the bread.I was also extremely good at deconstructing Jaffa cakes so I could be left to savour the delicious orangey bit in the centre. Even today when eating cream cake I’m quite likely to skip the cake and go straight for the cream. The middle of the year is good, the middle way had a certain appeal and I’m even finding middle age tolerable, but I hate writing the middle section of books.

In the beginning there is that excitement – this is ‘The One’ – the breakthrough book, the best thing I’ve done. At the end there is the promise of those two wonderful little words ‘the end’ when all is resolved and the damn thing (note no longer ‘The One’ – just another one) is finished. The middle, however, is just all that stuff that makes the story work – I think it’s called plot and then there’s character development and world building and ... Well, the middle is just graft - the hard yards through which the shiny new idea is dulled and tarnished by much thought and occasional reworking.

I left my current book at the beginning of the summer at the mid-point, the middle of the middle. I do not know what I was thinking! Take it from me, you should NEVER leave a book in the middle. I have done it before and that story never got finished. This current one is lurking at the back of my head, taunting me even as I write this – half formed and whimpering...

I am sooooo past the point of initial enthusiasm and such a long way from the finishing line. I have procrastinated for weeks, but today the kids are back in school, my friends are back in work and I have just run out of excuses. Wish me luck - I’m going to need it.

4 Comments on The Leaden Mean, last added: 9/5/2008
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8. Revision Update: The Middle

So the first round of revision is pretty much done for Act 1 scenes. So the first 75 pages have a better shape than they did originally with the draft. But I’m sure once I go through this whole novel for this revision round, there will plenty to go back and revise.

So, here I am in the middle. The infamous middle part of the novel. This is what has given me the most trouble. I’m still stumbling upon what exactly to do to get to the end. It’s all about how my characters will react to what happened in the first 75 pages, but also getting ready to start the foundation of what’s going to happen in the last 75 pages.

Sigh.

I’m going to do my best to keep at it but I have a feeling that the middle will be a little harder than I thought.

What makes a good middle of a novel?

First it’s all about complications and obstacles. You want your character to move forward from what happened in the beginning, but now the stakes have to get higher and sometimes that involves a reversal of fortune. To keep the novel interesting in the middle, you have to have conflict and revelations for the character to deal with.

So that is the goal I’m striving for. This is going to be an interesting section of this revision round.

0 Comments on Revision Update: The Middle as of 1/1/1900
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