Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. Interviews for July: (7/6) Jennifer J. Chow (7/13) Meri Allen/Shari Randall (Book 1--Ice Cream Shop Mystery), (7/20) Susan Van Kirk, (7/27) Meri Allen/Shari Randall (Book 2--Ice Cream Shop Mystery).

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Muddle in the Middle

Last Tuesday, Paula Gail Benson blogged about how plotting was the most difficult part of her writing journey. I have to admit that one of my least favorite parts of plotting a story is the middle. I enjoy writing the beginning and the end, but the middle (slowly shakes head) can be slow and agonizing. It’s where I get stuck, consider ditching the story, and starting a new one. (Okay, I’ve actually tossed a few stories.)

Here’s what I understood about the middle:

·         There are a series of tests and challenges your main character(s) must go through.

·         The challenges increase in difficulty.
·         Something dramatic and life-changing is supposed to happen to the main character(s) at the midpoint that changes the outcome.

Kind of vague, right?

Recently, I read James Scott Bell’s short (93 pages) book, Write Your Novel From the Middle. He maintains that pansters, plotters, and those in between can write from the middle. I hesitated to buy it because I’m skeptical about something that is portrayed as helpful to everyone.

However, I was surprised and do believe that different types of writers can use this approach.

Briefly, Bell considers a story to be a triangle where the bottom left is pre-story psychology or world, the bottom right is post-transformation, and the top of the triangle is what he calls the mirror moment.

This moment, located halfway into your story, is where the main character looks in the mirror and takes stock of herself and the conflict. If it is a character driven story, the character will determine how she needs to change in order to fight successfully.
In a plot driven story, the character will determine the odds against her, not necessarily how she needs to change. At this point it seems that the character faces certain death. Bell points out that some stories have both kinds of mirror moments.

Bell believes that the mirror moment is what the story is really about. (An epiphany!)

Also, “It’s not a scene, but a moment within a scene.” (Wow) This may not be a new concept for you, but it was new to me. I always thought the midpoint was a scene where something needed to be done instead of an internal moment.

He makes the point that while the character can decide what she needs to change during the mirror moment, the writer must show actions proving the character changed.

Another concept that intrigued me was that the main character should be in danger of dying and that there are three kinds of death:

·         physical

·         professional (if a novel revolves around a character’s calling)

·         psychological (key to romances)

There can be more than one type of death in a story. Bell says that it’s crucial to know the death stakes in order to write from the middle.

Currently, I’m in the process of plotting a short story writing from the middle. I’m finding that I need to take some time and really think about my character to understand her mirror moment and how it fits with the beginning and ending I had envisioned. I’m hopeful that this time I won’t have such a huge muddle in the middle to sort out.

There's more good information and some writing tips in James Scott Bell's book. You can read the description or order it on Amazon.
Is the middle of the story easy or difficult for you to write?
If you’ve read Write Your Novel From the Middle, did you find this approach helpful?


E. B. Davis said...

It's an interesting concept, Kara. I haven't tried it, but I do think that plotting from the middle would force writers to think about their stories in detail.

I go in knowing the beginning and end, but not the middle. Plotting from the middle will be an exercise that I try next. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

From working on your short, what has this plotting style taught you?

Jim Jackson said...

The middle of the book is the approximate place in the story arc the character approaches the inner cave. That fits with evaluating where the character is in life and where they want to go. Finding something to help overcome our personal threshold guardians is helpful. I hope this one works for you.

~ Jim

Linda Rodriguez said...

I must admit I'm a little skeptical about this approach, Kara. That said, I've usually found James Scott Bell to give good advice on writing, so it's something I'd be willing to try. But I do shy away from things when they are said to be what every writer needs.Not a big fan of anyone's THE WAY.

Warren Bull said...

Sounds like an interesting idea. It may well be worth trying. I think every author has her or his way of writing. This one could work for some.

Gloria Alden said...

Kara, it's an interesting idea, but I'm not sure it would work for me. I'm a pantser and I don't have a lot of trouble with the middle. I keep a running synopsis of each chapter and look back to see what characters or suspects need brought back and write with that view. What concerns me more is how the murderer, who I've usually known from the beginning, will be exposed. Maybe working from the middle would work for me with a short story, though.

Kara Cerise said...

E.B., I’ve learned a few things while trying to write from the middle. I found that when my character understood how she needed to change during the mirror moment, she also asked herself if the change was worth it. I think that people—characters—are change averse (some more than others) so characters may need to recommit to a goal during the mirror moment.

Also, all characters aren’t deep and self-reflecting. If it’s true the mirror moment is about the theme, then it follows that some themes will be more superficial than others.

I’m still pondering the concept of death stakes. In my short story there is a psychological death stake. But do all stories really have a death stake?

Kara Cerise said...

Thanks, Jim. That's a good point that the inner cave is like the mirror moment. I think people respond to images differently. I never completely understood what was supposed to happen to a character while in the cave, but something clicked when I read about looking in the mirror and changing.

Kara Cerise said...

Linda, I’m skeptical of one size fits all writing approaches, too. Hopefully, I presented Bell's ideas clearly. He goes into more detail about how his approach could help a panster, plotter, or someone in between.

Kara Cerise said...

Warren, I’ll have proof that this approach worked for me when I finish the stories that I had dropped due to the muddle in the middle. Until then, I remain a little skeptical.

Kara Cerise said...

How wonderful that you don’t have trouble writing the middle, Gloria. I imagine that you consider many scenarios for how the murderer will be exposed. It must be difficult to choose just one.

carla said...

middles make me crazy! Will check out this book and maybe it will be the therapy I need.

KM Rockwood said...

Everybody has his or her own way of approaching writing, and what works for one person may not work for another.

That said, I'm open to "listening" to everyone's ideas, and this seems like an approach that I would like to explore.

Kara Cerise said...

Carla, I will be interested to find out if this approach helped you reduce the craziness of writing the middle.

Kara Cerise said...

It is fascinating how each writer has her own method of tackling a story, K.M. Bell's ideas resonated with me, but probably won't be useful to everyone. Sometimes I wish there was a magic formula for writing the perfect story.

Paula Gail Benson said...

Thanks for this recommendation, Kara. Looking forward to reading this book.