steering the craft

middles, not muddles

 

The middle of your book is the longest part—and for many writers, the toughest to muddle through.

It’s not hard to see why. How do you think of ALL THE THINGS that your hero must do and endure during that long second act? Do you wing it as you go? Map it all out in advance? Figure out the ending and try to work backward?

Let’s talk about the process of creating a dynamic second act that won’t leave you (or your reader) feeling lost.


My weekly livestream happens on Wednesdays at 1 PM Pacific. Come live and participate! Or catch the replays here on the blog.

To watch live and ask questions, you can join the Path of the Storyteller Facebook group right here.

And subscribe to the YouTube channel here. 

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good writers make bad things happen

 

Look, I’m a nice person. I know you’re a nice person too. 

Yet when we put on our storyteller’s hats, being nice is a big mistake.

Think of it: Our protagonist is on a journey of meaningful change. What’s more likely to spur a life-altering transformation? 

  • An evening on the sofa under cozy blankets, complete with hot cocoa and Netflix?
  • Or an urgent, high-stakes journey way outside the comfort zone, overcoming one tough obstacle after the next?

We owe it to our heroes to put them through the wringer. But it’s not always easy to do! In today’s livestream I talk about:

  • why writers struggle to give up being nice
  • the trouble with “conflict” as the basis for scenes
  • how to keep crafting obstacles without being repetitive

Some great audience questions get addressed, too! Thanks to all who participated during the livestream, it made for a great discussion.


My weekly livestream is on...

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good bones

You know the old joke about “boneless chicken,” right? How did it walk?

As a long-time vegetarian, I don’t worry much about bones in my cooking! But I think about them All. The. Time. in my writing.

Just as the overall story has a structure, so must each scene. This is especially true in the middle, or second act.

Why? The middle is most of your book. A long expanse without some sturdy support is not going to hold up. It’s a tent without a tentpole.

The middle’s job is to place obstacle after obstacle in the way of your hero’s progress toward her goal, or mission. Think of it as a series of tests. Some, your hero will pass; some she’ll fail; some she’ll barely scrape through.

Each test forces her to level up in some way (a story is a journey of change, as I’m sure you recall!). But a series of tests can too easily look like this: Test. Test. Test. Test. Test. Scene after scene after scene.

Monotonous, no? And...

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cause and effect

Do you know this oft-repeated quote by British novelist and critic E. M. Forster? He’s explaining the difference between his definition of story and plot: 

“The king died and then the queen died is a story. The king died and then the queen died of grief is a plot.”

Forster uses the word story a little differently than I use it. By story, he means the most basic definition — a collection of incidents that happen in a timeline — but his point is clear and essential. 

He argues (and who would disagree?) that the job of a well-structured tale is to make readers care what happens next. The writer does this not by providing a list of unrelated incidents, but by creating a dynamic chain of cause and effect. 

Think of dominoes. They are meticulously arranged. They have a starting location and a finish line. They need not move in a perfectly straight trajectory (and it’s far more interesting if they...

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step by step

Change is hard.

It takes time. 

It takes letting go of old beliefs, old behaviors, old reflexes.

It can feel raw. Like shedding a skin.

A story is a journey of change. Is it any wonder that we writers have to put our heroes through the wringer?

All through the second act, our hero must face test after test after test. 

Second acts are the long middles of any story (half the length, or more, of the entire tale). Second acts are the dangerous, obstacle-laden expanse your hero must cross, like the proverbial chicken, to get to the other side. 

And every step of that long, treacherous way, the hero learns. Grows. Fails and regroups. Gets braver, bolder. Faces fears, confronts hard truths, and finds herself doing things she might never have dreamed she was capable of.

The middle is long because change is hard.  It takes time. It goes step by step.

Let the journey begin!

TIP: Think of the second act as a series of tests that allow your hero to...

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