If you feel you’ve hit a wall in your writing, chances are you’ve been stopped somewhere in the middle of your epic tale. You’ve likely already written a few lovely introductory chapters, you have a pretty solid idea for the ending, but you just can’t get through those mysterious middle chapters filled with countless instances of writer’s block.
If it is any comfort, you aren’t alone in your quest to sort out this enigmatic middle. Writer James Scott Bell is incredibly familiar with the second act of stories. After years of researching the middle portion of plots, he’s come up with his “Write from the Middle Method” centered around one dramatic moment that can change how you see those mysterious middle chapters.
If you’re terrified of the middle of your novel, keep reading to discover how to shine the light on those obscure center chapters.
Why Start at the Middle?
In short, because it can be the most difficult place to begin. We’ve all heard that the beginning is a very good place to start, and that working backwards can help combat that pesky writer’s block, but putting the pen down right in the middle of your story can be terrifying.
Writers usually have the end of their book in mind when they come up with the plot, or they have a general idea of where they want the story to go. Starting at the beginning can be done easily with a few brainstorms. The middle of the book, however, is where those plot threads begin to tangle, and by the end of the novel you could lose or gain a few, making things even more confusing.
No matter how much you outline before embarking on your journey through the middle, it can still be a perplexing experience as you attempt to align your plot threads. So instead of wandering aimlessly into the center of the turmoil, why not begin there? This method will help you design a few literary landmarks in the middle of your story so that you have a few spots to aim for instead of simply wandering through that plot forest, hoping you come out on the other side.
The Middle Begins with a “Mirror Moment”
James Scott Bell has done years of writing and plot research in numerous mediums to find what makes a moment a story’s true middle, and he’s nailed it with his discovery of the “mirror moment”.
Bell describes this concept as the moment the main character stares at themselves in a mirror, either literally or figuratively, and asks themselves the most important questions. What is he/she doing here? What has the character become? What does this person really want? This is the moment that adds depth to the first half of the novel and gives the second half of the book a true purpose. This moment is filled with tension and should echo the theme of your whole novel.
The mirror moment should be almost magical, yet should last only as long as the name indicates: a moment. If this period lasts longer it can lose much of its impact. This should be one instance filled with feeling and ultimate clarity. The character can be lost in a sea of emotions going into the moment, but should emerge from it with a fresh outlook on their situation and newfound determination.
No, the character does not have to look into an actual mirror, but this should be a moment of self-reflection with a dash of resolve. Whatever happens in this brief instance should be the catalyst for the events that lead to the resolution of conflict.
Tips to Find this Mirror Moment
Amidst all the events of a novel, this one moment may be incredibly hard to find. However, you likely have an idea of the climax of your novel, whether you’ve written the first few chapters or are just floating some ideas around in your head.
Take that climax and begin breaking it into tiny pieces. Isolate the characters present, whether they’re directly or indirectly involved, what events are happening immediately or in the background, and the setting of the piece.
Once everything has been separated, write out the actions the main character and his/her companions take and which one is going to truly drive this book to the end and trigger that moment. You may have to brainstorm a few times, but through trial and error you will likely find the best event that most successfully leads into your one moment.
If you aren’t sure how the exact moment should play out, give it a trial run in a simple setting. Because we’ve talked so much about mirrors, why not invent a little quick write where your main character is staring directly into that mirror, asking themselves every question left to be answered. Begin with questions, and end with resolve as they stare their own reflection down.
List out emotions you want to convey as you write and rewrite this scene. While your character may go through a flurry of intense feelings, there should be a few that are present overall. This moment should be filled with thoughts and emotions that morph into a satisfying resolve at the end.
If you’ve outlined everything in your mirror moment but it still feels as if something is missing, this may be the perfect time to throw in just a little bit of new material. A tiny twist or even a new character could add to this epiphany moment and give your reader an interesting surprise. A little fresh content may be just enough fuel to carry you all the way to the resolution.
Now that you’ve written the moment in this removed setting, begin designing a setting true to the plot of your book. Again, there doesn’t have to an actual mirror in the setting, just momentary peace as the character sorts through their thoughts. The character could be mid-conversation and have this epiphany. They could be alone in their own peaceful house, or fighting an army on a battlefield. What matters is that the decisions made in this moment allow the character to press forward with new resolve.
Using the LOCK Method to Discover your Mirror Moment
If brainstorming a literal mirror moment has still left you with many questions, back up to the basics of your plot to figure out everything to be included in your moment.
James Scott Bell defines the key components of a plot as L.O.C.K., which stands for Lead character, Objective, Confrontation, and Knockout. Your lead character is the most obvious of the bunch, and should be the person involved in the mirror moment.
This character of course has an objective and will need to confront someone or something in order to achieve it. This objective and confrontation will be two of the most important things present in that mirror moment. Ensure that the character’s objective is the same one they’ve been working towards all along, and guide their actions so that they confront any obstacles either internally or externally.
Finally, the “knockout” is how the confrontation is resolved and how the character completes their objective. Picture a boxing match where the protagonist has just punched out that pesky obstacle and has finally accomplished their goal. This won’t occur in your mirror moment, but whatever the character resolves to do in that moment should lead to this knockout. To set up your mirror moment successfully, write out what that knockout scenario will be, and brainstorm how the realizations during that mirror moment will lead your character to victory when he or she comes face to face with their obstacles.
If you’ve identified your L.O.C.K. components, brainstormed ideas for your moment, yet are still feeling a little stuck, be patient! This is one of the most sensitive moments in your story, so it is understandable if it takes a few rough drafts before the moment is perfect.
Designing the Middle Around Your Mirror Moment
You’ve worked so hard to create that mirror moment, but there’s still so much of the middle left to write! What now?
This is where your outline comes in. Insert this beautifully written moment into your methodical timeline and begin writing about the events immediately before this. Start with the trigger of this mirror moment. Who triggered it? What event transpired? From there, find out the cause of that trigger event, then the catalyst for that previous event, and so on until you land somewhere near the beginning.
Depending on your style, writing the chunk after that moment may instead be a little easier. Begin with how the character immediately acts on this new realization. Who is the person first affected? How does it effect the outcome of the event happening right now? How does it affect every event afterwards? Let this moment act as the first domino in a long chain. Once this moment is triggered, it begins affecting everything beyond it until the characters arrive at the “Knockout” part of the plot.
While you may still have a few reservations about writing that pesky midsection of your book, Bell’s method can at least give you a few techniques to lean on. If you feel yourself getting lost in that middle, just remind yourself that both you and your main character will make it out alive.