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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Part 4 - Muddle the Middle of Your Scenes by CS Lakin

Today's post is Part 4 in a 5 part series of articles by C.S. Lakin, our guest speaker for the upcoming CWOW Annual Writer's Workshop on January 25th, 2014. We hope you enjoy these invaluable tips.  If you want to hear more from C.S. Lakin on building your novels, scene by scene, pop over and register for the workshop and be sure to drop by C.S. Lakin's blog to learn more about this great writer! 

Muddle the Middle of Your Scenes

I went into detail about scene beginnings last week, and I’ll be spending a bit more time on scene structure since it’s so crucial and so often ignored. I talked about how scenes are mini novels and must have a beginning, middle, and end, and how each scene is like a promise to your reader that you are going to deliver something. And what you are going to deliver is revealed in the high moment near the end of the scene.


Just as middle scenes of a novel can slog along and sag, so too middles of a scene can drag or not go anywhere. Knowing your high moment will really help avoid that. One good way to have compelling middles is to work backward from your high moment. If you know, for example, that Mary thinks George has taken her out to dinner to propose, but the high moment reveals he’s breaking up with her, you can picture that instant of her being stunned and think how she is going to feel just before that. You want your character to change in some small way by the end of the scene, and so think how Mary feels ten, twenty, or thirty minutes before this shocking moment. How is she going to be feeling twenty minutes after? So you want to start the scene with her expectations and in the middle of action—either already at the restaurant or pretty close to being there. In your middle, you don’t want to spend a lot of time (or maybe even any time) driving there or getting your character from any one place to another. Don’t drag the middle by stretching time (unless you want to).

Complicate, Exacerbate

Middles of novels are where you up the stakes, complicate and confound your character, make things worse. You might add danger or reveal a surprise twist. A middle is the unveiling of the storyline. So in each scene, as you build to your moment, you want to do the same. Add complications, obstacles, twists. Maybe Mary’s car doesn’t start and she’s late meeting George at the restaurant, which adds to her anxiety. Maybe Mary gets a phone call right before she leaves that complicates the subplot regarding her friend who’s going through a divorce. That can enrich the scene as Mary thinks how lucky she is to have George and how he’s going to propose to her in a few minutes. If you are going to throw a twist into your scene, such as George breaking up with Mary instead of proposing to her, you can use the middle to set up Mary’s expectations of one outcome, only to have a reversal at the high point. Reversals are terrific, and if you put in at least three things leading up to them that indicate the opposite outcome, they will be powerful.

This week, take a look at not just your first scene’s middle but those of random scenes in your novel. Find the high points and see if you have developed the middle so that it is leading to that moment and complicating things. See if you can add in expectations that imply the opposite outcome. If your character expects something bad to happen, have three things in the middle that imply her instincts will prove right. Then when that bad thing doesn’t happen, it will pack a punch.

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