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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Prevent Ball-Sucking Middles

You know it happens. Every time. Every story.

Your beginning opens with a bang. You have an ending that zings.

But your middle sucks balls.

So how do you fix it? How do you give it cojones?

How do you conquer your story's middle?

Here are two ways:
  • Failed Solutions

  • Rock Throwing
Think of it as "two steps forward, one step back."

Your main character sets out to overcome the story problem. As soon as he tries, it fails. He tries another solution. More fail. Tries another. Another fail. Over and over until he figures out the one solution that actually works. From there, your story moves toward the ending.

But the point is this: He tries. He fails. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

And don't forget--make your hero fail hard.

I remember reading a great description of how to build a story: "Get your hero up a tree. Throw rocks at him. Get him down from the tree."

The story middle is where you throw rocks at your hero.

That means you put obstacles in his way that keep him from directly solving the story problem. You make things hard. You turn up the heat.

If he's trying to reach the magic sword, the Dark Lord's henchmen and minions attack him at every turn. If he's trying to solve the disappearance of the rich debutante, this is where he finds red herrings, puzzling clues, and heavies that harrass him.

Get the picture?

You can even combine them. When your main character tries to solve the story problem, the bad guys attack.

Let's say you're writing a fantasy novel. Your hero has to find the magic sword to save the kingdom. First, he's gotta find the wiseman who knows the location of said sword. When he finds the wiseman, have him run into the villain's henchmen. Even better--have the henchmen kidnap the wiseman. Now our hero's gotta rescue the wiseman and defeat the henchmen before he can find out where the sword's located.

So now you've got these two methods to create a good story middle. Question is: How many failed solutions do you use in your story? How many thrown rocks? How many of both?

Depends on your story. There's really no hard and fast rule for this.

My tip: Have at least one failed solution or one thrown rock. If you don't, you won't have a story. You'll just have an event.

And an event sucks more balls than a saggy middle.

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