Thursday, June 14, 2018

Writing The Middle Of Your Story

Wow! Your novel is really coming together. You have a first draft of your first chapter. You also have a first draft of your last chapter. You have an excellent idea of how your story begins and ends. 

You're so much further ahead than many would-be writers.

But there's another place where you need to write a first draft chapter. Where is it? Right in the middle, of course. You need to write the chapter that captures the events of… 

Ah, the magical midpoint. This is where your protagonist thinks she’s gotten everything she’s ever wanted. The sun is shining. The birds are singing. Life couldn’t be better—or so she foolishly believes.

This is the part where your heroine goes “all in”. She kisses her “true love” for the first time. She gets the money she needs to “set her up for life”. She’s found the “killer” responsible for murdering her friend--or so she thinks.

At this point in your story, toward the middle of your novel, the protagonist has it pretty good. Very good actually, thank you very much. She’s at a high place in the story—possibly the highest she’ll get.

This is also the place in your story where things go wrong for your protagonist in the wrongest way possible. She “bets the ranch” and loses it. She snubs her “true love”, and he walks out on her. She’s falsely accused of killing her best friend right after she gives the police a hot lead on the real killer.

In this type of magical midpoint, your heroine seems to be at an all-time low.

Why is nailing the magical midpoint of your novel so critical?

In a well crafted film, novel, novella, or even short story, the magical midpoint always marks a significant event in the protagonist’s life. The significant event can be for better or for worse. But it’s there, forcing the heroine to make a major decision and take some sort of swift and drastic action. 

In my young adult novel, From Bad Girl To Worse, my heroine Sandra Porter kisses her "true love" Mack after he confesses his "love" for her. Then, they have a "coming out" where they hold hands in front of all of their friends, letting them know that they are "a thing". At this point, Sandra believes in her heart she's gotten the one thing she wants most--a boyfriend, someone who will take care of her. She's ready to commit murder for this boy if she has to.

It's important for you to know that the midpoint event doesn’t have to be externally devastating, like an earthquake or house fire. It doesn’t have to be externally fortuitous, like winning the billion dollar lottery or getting that big break as the star of a major motion picture.

What the significant event must be is internally devastating or fortuitous to your protagonist. The external event could be as ordinary as the protagonist severing a toxic relationship. But if she loved her toxic friend dearly, it might as well be a 10.0 earthquake that causes her world to collapse on top of her. And the heroine must lay all her cards out on the table and confess her deep love for that "not-so-best" friend.

Or the external event may be as seemingly mundane as the protagonist finding an unopened piece of mail that fell behind a bedroom dresser. But after she opens it, she finds out that it was the last letter that her older brother wrote to her before he died unexpectedly. And in the letter, he apologized for letting her get in trouble for stealing money from their mother—money he actually stole. Then, in light of such distressing news, she must decide to make amends with her estranged mother.

In both of these scenarios, the meaning behind each of the events is what carries the significance, not the events themselves. How they affect the protagonist internally is what matters. And that's what the reader cares about.

In many novels, the middle of the story seems to drag and sag. As a result, the story the novel is trying to tell inevitably wanders aimlessly through a random plot. At that point, it ceases to be a story.

When you read one and two star reviews of these types of novels, readers might smear the novel with less than flattering comments such as, “Weak middle”, or “The story drifts off into nowhere around the middle”, or “The middle of the novel drags on and on with no point”.

Without a magical midpoint, where something monumental happens and the protagonist takes a risky action in response, the novel will likely drag, sag and drift into nowhere.

But you won’t let this happen in your novel. Why? Because you’re about the write the first draft of the middle chapter, or chapters, of your story. And the events those chapters chronicle will be huge for your protagonist internally, making her struggle even harder in the fierce battle between her longstanding misbelief and the desire for her greatest goal.

The magical midpoint, if you get it right, will turn your story into a novel readers will love.

Happy writing,

L. R. Farren
Author of From Bad Girl To Worse 
and The Dangerous Way Home

P. S. – In the old days of film making, screenwriters, producers and directors called the magical midpoint “sex at sixty”. Why? Because at sixty minutes, exactly at the midpoint of a one hundred twenty minute movie, the hero and the heroine would kiss, or fall in love for the first time. Next time you watch a movie, look for the “sex at sixty” moment, right in the middle of the movie.

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