Ciao, SEers! Back in 2018, I gave a brief overview of story middles, touching on scenes and sequels and covering the falling and rising actions before the end of the novel. Today, we’re going to get a little more in depth and talk about what makes those middles so messy and what makes those boxes so mysterious.
The middle of your novel is where fifty percent of the activity takes place. It’s bound to get messy in there, especially if you don’t have a plan or if you deviate from it. Here are some things you need to make sure you take care of that will make your character’s life messy but, if you’re careful, will keep your novel tight and tidy:
- Stakes: external (physical), internal (emotional), and philosophical (beliefs and conflicts of values).
Each of these need to continue to escalate.
- Make characters (especially the protagonists) suffer.
This goes hand-in-hand with the stakes. As the situation gets more dire, your heroes should feel more angst.
- Open boxes as you close others.
Every puzzle solved must present another. Every goal attained must come at a cost. Make it so the hero can’t turn back, propelling the story forward.
- Never make it so there’s only one option. That’s easy.
Give your hero two choices—especially two conflicting, impossible-to-make choices—and he can’t have both.
As for your mystery boxes, here are a few questions to deny your readers immediate answers to:
- What does character want?
- What will it cost to get it?
- How will they react to the cost?
- How do their reactions confirm their beliefs?
- Who else will be impacted?
- How will they be impacted?
- How will they react?
- How will their reactions impact the rest of the party?
Of course there’s always the W’s (who, what, where, when, why, and hoW) with respect to a crime. Those questions always need answers, so those mystery boxes should be open, too.
Personally, I have a love-hate relationship with mystery boxes. I love opening mystery boxes in my stories and throwing a few more open right when I let my characters and readers close one. But I hate it when authors do it to me. Just kidding. 🤣 I love it then, too. Because it’s so much fun trying to close them before the characters do.
What about you? How do you feel about messy middles and mystery boxes? Let’s talk about it.
And for those of you in the US, we all wish you a happy Thanksgiving tomorrow!