Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Climbing the Story Mountain

Monday I forgot to announce the winner of my weekly drawing. I blame my mental lapse on the holiday. The winner of last week's drawing is Elizabeth Morgan. I'm mailing her a Love Inspired book. If you would like to be eligible for my weekly drawing leave a comment and become a follower of my blog. Nothing to it. ;0)

Last week for the writing tip we talked about the beginning of a book and that a story should start with change that will alter the hero’s life. He/she will never be the same. Now we’re going to talk about the middle of your book.

For me, as I’m thinking of a story, I’ve always felt that if I have the beginning and ending in mind I can start writing, and that the middle will take care of itself. But that is not to say that the middle is not important or needs crafting. The middle takes your hero/herione on a hike up a story mountian to the climax. Each scene MUST build tension, develop even more change, infuse complications, and keep the hero/herione focused upon reaching his/her goal, which is the top of the mountain and the climax of your book. So let’s break it down with a do and don’t list.

  • Build tension
  • Add complications
  • Demand action
  • Delay—belay
  • Add unbeatable odds
  • Rehash
Let’s talk about the do list. Your story is building, one scene at a time and a misstep could make your hero fall off his story mountain. Plus, with each step forward your hero comes upon complications. These complications have him make either a good or bad decision, but he’s always moving forward which builds tension. Complications demand action from the hero to overcome. What the hero decides to do with each complication adds another layer to the story and can provide important information that he will use to help win the climax or reach the mountain peak.

Now let’s focus on the don’t side of the middle. You’ll notice that with delay I added belay. If you delay your story with unnecessary information, such as having your hero stray from the path of reaching his goal to solve his problems, you belay progress and your story dies. Belay means to stop or quit, but it also means obtaining a hold during mountain climbing. The hero can't get stuck as he climbs his story mountain. Don’t belay the story with unnecessary holds (information). This happens in many ways for instance, you’ve come across some wonderful research that you want to include in your story, so you add it and then all of a sudden you don’t know what to do next. If you find yourself in this situation it’s because you’ve belayed your hero and taken him in a direction he doesn’t want to go. Some call this writer’s block, which is really a story roadblock because you’ve taken a detour off your story mountain. Always be on the alert for this malady.

Another problem is having unbeatable odds without an equalizer. Always make sure your hero has something that will give him strength as he faces his foe. Think of David and Goliath. Goliath was a mighty foe, but David had an equalizer…his sling.

The next don’t is rehash. I’ve been guilty of this and it’s easy to fall into this habit. Because I read one chapter at a time at my writer’s group I fell into the habit of rehashing the story within each chapter. I did this so my fellow writers would know what was going on. DON’T do this. Your reader is very savvy and has stayed up into the wee hours of the night reading your book. If you rehash the reader will grow weary, think your hero is stupid, and wonder if the writer has Alzheimer’s. Never underestimate your readers. They have memories, they have been keeping score, and they are anxious to see what happens next, not rehash the past.

There you have it. Always remember each scene needs to build toward the climax! Everything the hero thinks, says, and does moves the hero farther up his story mountain.

What are some tips you’ve found that helps in writing the middle of a story?


  1. This is a very informative article and has a lot of great info on how to maintain the pace during the middle of the story. Thanks for posting it.

  2. What do you suggest about dialogue? I'm smack dab in the middle of my story and have it mapped so at least one major event happens in each scene to move the story forward and/or gives a puzzle piece to show how it all fits together plot wise....however, my dialogue is getting stale. I've worked in new scenery/locations and that has helped some. What else do you suggest?

  3. Love your do and don't list! Great explanations, especially for delay-belay. I've done this, and since I'm currently in a revision process, I read this post at the perfect time!

  4. My book arrived today Kathi! Thanks again - it looks great! It'll probably have to wait a bit for me to get to it (crazy busy time of year for me) - but I'll let you know when I read it :)

    I'm a little worried about the middle of my Steampunk novel. It has a scene that really builds and is very tense. I'm actually wondering if I should change it up and make it one of the final scenes - but there are problems with that too. Decisions, decisions.

  5. I'm glad you liked it, Michael. Thanks for stopping by.

  6. Laura, I'm so glad you found it helpful! Thanks for stopping by.

  7. Jemi, wow that took a long time, but I'm glad you received the book. Boy, do I know what you mean about a climax in the middle. I had a similar problem with my book, The Forgotten Warrior. So I ended the book with that climatic scene. Just be careful when you do that. I left my fans with a giant cliffhanger. I'm hopeful to redeem myself with my next book. ;0)

  8. I especially loved the "don'ts" in this post. And I didn't know about belay in climbing. It makes perfect sense, though. I also really liked what you said about not making obstacles too big for the hero because how on earth will they overcome them?

  9. L.T., I'm glad you liked them. I hope you find them helpful. Thanks for stopping by.

  10. I always love the focus on building tension. Tension. That's what I love in fiction.

    Another way I loved the middle of a book described is as the "parting of the curtain." Larry Brooks talks about this in his story structure architect series. He says the first half clues tell us bit by bit what is going on, then at the midpoint, something big is unearthed and the protagonist and reader see things in a whole new way. I love this.

  11. Mary, that's great. I love that. Thanks for sharing it.

  12. Hi Kathy. Thank you for visiting my blog. I appreciate your Do and Don't list too.

  13. Liza, your welcome. Thanks for stopping by my blog. I'm glad you appreciate the do and don't list. :)

  14. Great advice! And the middle can be the hardest part. Thanks for the specific info.

  15. Thanks, Alyssa. I'm glad you stopped by. :)

  16. Heather, sorry to be so late. For some reason I didn't get this message when it came in. If you feel your dialogue is stale you might try looking at not only what is being said, but why. Have you laid the ground work for your characters' mentally? Do you have a good balance between emotions, motivation and what is being said? Look at those areas and let me know. Again, sorry for the delay in answering you.



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