Tag Archives | story structure

Power, Purpose, and Proportion of your Midpoint.

“The big twist!”  “The big reveal!”

I love finding that moment in the middle of a book. I look for it. If the midpoint scene does everything it is supposed to do, I’m well on my way to being a huge fan. (Okay, along with things like voice, character, and stakes – important stuff like that.)

Possible Midpoint scenes: (Just a few.)

  • Secrets revealed.
  • A new bad guy steps into the scene and the one we thought was the villain takes second place.
  • A murder.
  • A major clue found.
  • A couple makes their first real connection – as in a kiss or almost kiss.
  • The main character makes an important decision.
  • The main character experiences a false win. (The reader sees disaster in the near future.) Or a false loss.
  • True relationships revealed.
  • A big fight and the main love interest or best friend disappears for a bit.

Power:

  • The scene should have an emotional impact on your character; and hopefully, your reader. You want your reader to invest even more in your character. If the midpoint moves the storyline forward but not the internal storyline then something is missing.
  • The scene could move the plot in a new direction. Likewise, it’s about impossible for the main character to be affected emotionally without something big happening. The outer and inner arc are too connected.
  • The readers should gasp or open their eyes a bit wider after reading the scene. I love a book, where I hit the middle, and instead of yawning, I grip the edges and race to the end.
  • Power to convince the reader to pass the book on to a friend, write a review, and spread the word at this awesome book they just read.

Purpose:

  • The scene should not just be thrown in there because you read a craft book that said, “something big needs to happen in the middle of your story”. That would make it feel contrived. If you plan ahead, you can foreshadow and plant clues so that the midpoint scene feels organic to your story.
  • Because of the scene, the character should have to make new decisions, learn new skills or put skills learned to the test, and learn new emotional truths – all to be used in the rest of the story.
  • To keep your readers from falling asleep or choosing another book from the TBR pile.

Proportion:

  • And of course, plan the Midpoint scene so it’s in proportion to your story. A big moment in a quieter character-driven story would be small in a big thriller. And vice versa.
  • Make sure the scene is in line with how you’ve presented and developed your characters.

So, there you go. Now that you’ve got the goods on the Midpoint, all you have to do is worry about the easy stuff like voice, 3D characters, and theme.

What’s your favorite Midpoint scene? Do you put any thought into it when writing or does it happen naturally?

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Can a book have weak structure and still succeed?

Tricky question.

I say, yes. Remember I said, ‘weak structure’ not bad structure or no structure. Meaning the elements of the three acts are there, but they’re weak.

Examples of weak structure:

  • No distinct inciting incident.
  • The turning point/disaster before Act II and Act III aren’t obvious. I know I’m in Act II or III but I missed that life changing decision and huge disaster.
  • The first part of Act II covers the B story or subplot but the story isn’t moving forward much. (I fall asleep while reading.)
  • The big midpoint moment that I love is almost non-existent or it happens too late. (I think subconsciously, readers notice this kind of thing. They might think the middle is dragging.)
  • In the climax, the protagonist never really has that final fight with the villain.
  • The villain suffers from the Scooby-doo effect, meaning he/she isn’t really as bad as the reader was led to believe.

So why do some of these books end up on the bestseller list or receive 5 stars?

  • Incredible hook.
  • High stakes.
  • Snappy dialogue.
  • Terrific page-to-page tension and over-arching tension.
  • An extremely likeable main character that readers connect to.
  • Great sensory details that make the story come alive.
  • A well-developed voice that practically pulls us through the story.

The good thing is that structure is easier to learn and apply to your writing than some of the elements on the list above. In most cases, great structure can push your book from great to excellent and the reader won’t even know why.

Do you agree? Or disagree? Is structure worth studying? What might be the positive side effects of learning structure?

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How I Write: Macro editing, Me, and Light bulbs

(Check out Ansha’s blog for a list of participating writers!)

I have to be honest. It took me a long time to understand macro editing. I mean, it’s so much easier to line edit. It’s very concrete to look through my writing for weak verbs, over-used words, weak chapter endings, typos…etc.

I’d read phrases like adding emotion, inner and outer conflict, three-act structure, goal/motivation, pacing – and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them. At some point, a light bulb flickered on inside my brain – and I got it.

As I just started macro editing, I’m going to share what I’ve done so far.

1. I let my story sit for 6 weeks while beta readers took a look. Then I read it and took brief notes of obvious stuff that needed rewriting. I also added smiley faces for parts I liked.

2. I wrote a few drafts of a query letter and the synopsis to be revised later. This helps with plot holes.

3. I wrote a new beginning with a stronger hook to tie in to my story goal.

Story Structure

4. I wrote a one-line description for each scene. I separated my scenes into the three-act structure. I took Alexandra Sokoloff’s wisdom to heart. I checked to make sure I had opening tension introducing the story goal. I checked for the Act II midpoint climax or big twist. I checked for increasing tension up through the climax. Her blog is a must read.

5. I plugged my story into the nine point grid I read about on query tracker.

At this point, I know parts need to be rewritten. Sentences cry out to be beefed up and rewritten. But I’m not doing anything yet.

 6. And this next step is new for me. I have a 4×6 index card for each scene. And here’s what’s on them.

  •  mc’s goal
  • action taken
  • opposing force
  • Outer (point of change)
  • Inner (point of change that corresponds to the outer)
  • Suggestions: (Here I write down suggestions for what I’m missing)

And so far, a lot of my scenes are missing the inner conflict, which means the emotion is weak. Geez!

This is where I’m at now. I do know the next few steps I’ll take.

7. Rewrite the big scenes that need to be changed.

8. Rewrite according to the index cards.

9. Rewrite according to my notes from my read through.

And there you have it – my long learning curve with macro editing. Is there anything I missed? What works for you? And I hope I’m not the only one who once thought revisions meant line editing. (Feel free to lie to make me feel better.)

Comments { 15 }

How I Write: Muddled middles and motivation.

I feel really bad for the “middle”. It has a bad reputation. Seriously, it must have a huge guilt complex. And I don’t blame it.

The middle will make or break your novel. (No wonder we curse it so often.)

If you craft your novel well, the middle is the part where readers give a contented sigh and race to the end with their fingers gripped on the ereader device book. If you have a saggy middle – a reader just might close the book.

I’m a plotter. So when I’m writing I have motivation to finish because I know where I’m going. I’m excited to see how everything unfolds and to reach the climax. But when I’m plotting I struggle with the middle just like pantsers who are writing through the middle.

What I think makes a good middle: (or Act II)

  • plants for later payoffs or revelations
  • main character hunting down false clues or trying to reach goals, and they make mistakes
  • introduction or furthering of the inside character arc
  • disasters and complications
  • plot points and information that push the story forward
  • developing relationships

The middle middle: the big twist, reversal, huge revelation; the part where the reader gasps and the story takes off in a whole different direction.

  • real clues and plot developments
  • increased stakes in the outer and inner plot
  • everything goes wrong
  • payoffs from earlier plants
  • any subplots or separate storylines start connecting
  • devastation and the main character’s dark moment
  • mc makes plans

After the middle, the story heads into Act III and the climax.

There you have it. I find motivation through the middle by constantly asking how I can make it bigger, better, more suprising  – while moving the plot forward.  

Do you struggle with your middles? And what aspect of the middle is the hardest? How have you learned  to perfect your middles? (Srsly tell all because I’m stuck in a middle right now.)

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Skimming (and I don’t mean stones)

Okay. Tell the truth time – even though it’s not Tuesday.

I love, love, love a good book. As with most writers – I always have. But learning to write has turned me into a super picky reader. Sometimes, I skim (gulp). I have several different reactions when I read.

This is the most terrific story and I’m going to run out and tell everyone about it.

 These stories I read word for word. I get caught up in the humor, suspense, the characters. At this level, I would read about the character doing the most mundane things like drinking milk or making a pb and j sandwich. I relish every minute reading it and am disappointed when the experience ends.

This is a good book and I’ll give it a favorable review but I’m not gushing or anything.

I’ll read this book and have a healthy respect for the writing and the author. I’ll give it favorable reviews. Most likely, I’ll read this word for word.

The story could have been a lot better.

I hate to say it. I never used to skim. But I don’t have time to waste on a book that is only half interesting. If there is a series of scenes of only character development and not plot, I’ll skim. And if it continues, I’ll skip huge chunks of the middle. The sad thing is, I’ll read the ending and realize I didn’t miss a thing. I still completely understood the ending.

Danger zone of losing me as a reader.

These are the books that after the first page or chapter, I stop reading. They might be good books, worthy of being published, they just didn’t draw me into the story – at all. And I’m sure this is extremely subjective.

Of course, there are levels in between. I didn’t start skimming until I became a writer. It makes me realize how important pacing, structure, micro tension are to a story.

Why does this phenomenon occur?

It’s because I read to learn. I do read for pleasure too, but I want to learn at the same time. And because I want to get the most out of my time, I won’t waste it. I think if I stopped writing and went back to just reading for pleasure, I’d stop skimming as much.

What do you think? Why and when do you skim?

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