Thursday, February 20, 2014

Critical Plot Elements - MIDDLES - #1 Schematics

Call it The Middle-Page Sag, most writers have a common complaint: It’s hard work to stop a middle from getting boring.  Hard, but not impossible.  

If you’ve been following this series you’ll know that your plot should fit roughly into a three act structure of Beginning, Middle and End.  

Beginning starts with a change and ends when the protagonist commits to fighting or working for the story goal.

But what comes next?

As you head into middle-ground it’s vital to make sure your main character(s) aren’t sitting on the fence.  The story goal has been established, so the reader knows what we’re aiming for.  It’s time to unlock…

SCHEMATICS.  (AKA a word I like that I’m using instead of “intent” because everyone uses “intent”).

Put simply, we’re at the point in the book where your protagonist needs to make a plan.  

If you’ve got an active, intentional character (which you do already, right?  Right?), they’ll have been making plans and stating goals throughout the book thus far. But now’s the time to let the character ruminate over what they’ve learned, draw some conclusions and unleash the character motivation which will push the protagonist inexorably towards your climactic events.

Even if you’re building a thriller or any plot with twists and reveals at the end, by now the protagonist must have some idea what they’re heading into.  If it’s a thriller, they’re probably aware there’s a psycho murderer on the loose. If it’s a romance, the love interest has been identified and is now firmly in the protagonist’s sights. If it’s fantasy, your hero / heroine has learned of the dastardly plan to kill them and steal their powers – and is now off to find the side-kick who will provide comedic relief and the Amulet of Eternal Protection… 

You get my point.

So your set-up is complete.  The protagonist will not have ALL the facts, but by this time they should have enough of them to understand what’s going on.  Let them tell the reader what they think of it all – and formulate a plan for overcoming the Big Problem (or achieve ‘victory’ against the villain).  

Letting the protagonist scheme plays several roles:

1.  An over-arching consideration of what’s happened so far lets the reader check in and make sure they understand things as the protagonist sees them.  This sets parameters.  It tells the reader “This is what we’re here to do” and allows them to settle in and enjoy anticipating the end.

2.  It keeps the protagonist moving at a time in the story when stagnation would be easy.  They have a goal. Now everything they do should be a step taken towards it – even when they get thrown backwards now and again.

3.  It increases tension for the reader (a good thing!) because it foreshadows What Could Go Horribly Wrong.

(A brief example: For those of you who’ve read Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater, this is the point in the story right after the protagonist has drawn the conclusion her local wolves are no normal wolves and she found men heading into the forest to go shooting.  She puts a plan into action first to stop the shooting, then turns her mind to keeping the ‘animals’ safe in the longer term…)

So, as your beginning draws to a close and you’re opening up your middle, set your protagonist into action.  Inform the reader what the goal is, and let them see the protagonist take the first steps toward it.

Tune in next time for “Raising the Stakes”; what happens when the protagonist discovers the problem is even bigger than they thought?

Your Turn: Does your story / plot present any unique challenges for having your protagonist planning for the future?


  1. Excellent! (Had to, had to!)

    Thank you once again for the awesome tips. I'm off to check my WIP against this entry to make sure it has all these points! :-)

  2. I had to take a hard look at the middle of my novel too. I like your idea of a scheming protag to keep things moving. Thanks!

  3. Fantastic advice! The middle of my WIP is a bit saggy, yes, so these tips will all come in handy.

  4. I'm about to start editing my manuscript's 'middle' so this post will come in very handy! :-)

  5. And still i love this series :-)

    Awesome post again.