Posts Tagged ‘story structure’

Stupid Middles

Well, squiders, if you’d asked me yesterday, I would have said my changeling story was going great! I figured out a potential title, writing was going good, I’d gotten my main characters into the same place. Things were lovely.

Today everything is awful.

It’s like when I was working on World’s Edge for Nano, actually. Now that I think about it, I had issues in the exact same spot then. The beginning is fine–there are things that need to happen to get the plot rolling, and then there are other things. And there are things that need to happen in the middle, and then things that need to happen at the end.

But that section between the beginning events and the midpoint is a sink hole.

In structural terms, I’ve heard this section of Act II referred to as the “reaction” phase. (Act II is often broken into two halves, one before the midpoint and one after.) Basically, the idea is that the main character is reacting to whatever the turning point between Acts I and II, and that goes on to the midpoint, when things pivot in some manner, and then in the second half the character makes a decision and starts to act on it.

It’s an easy place to get lost, unfortunately.

I don’t necessarily remember having middle issues in general, but it’s been a while since I’ve written a full novel draft from scratch and maybe I always have. Or maybe, because my pacing and structure used to have issues, I had different issues. Who knows? Besides, each book is different, and there are different problems each time.

But, anyway, my Act II Part 1 section has 20,000 words assigned to it, and I’m 10K in, and I’m a little lost. Each scene needs to progress the plot and the character arcs, so I can’t throw in a lot of random stuff, but I’m not quite sure what to do instead.

The good news is that, hooray, revision is a thing. And I know from experience that it is easier to tweak arcs and make sure theme and tone are consistent if the story is already written and you generally know where you’re going.

So I just need to get through this, and it can all be fixed later.

So that’s where I am. Aside from today being like pulling teeth, I’m on track and making fairly good progress, and I should be done with the draft by the end of July.

How are your projects going?

Sick Day (and Story Structure)

Happy Thursday, squiders. I hope yours find you better than mine, where I am literally a fountain of snot.

(Tips for dealing with sinus congestion–and hopefully getting rid of it? I will love you forever.)

Anyway, Siri and I spent about four hours yesterday pounding out stuff for the sequel of City of Hope and Ruin. (We were both sick, so hopefully everything is coherent when I go back over it.) We made decent progress, mapping out character and relationship arcs, and poked at the plot (still being a jerk) a bit. And we’re going to start writing, so that’s exciting.

We also spent some time talking about structure and how to apply that to the series as a whole. (We’re thinking it will be a trilogy, and I think I’ve talked to you guys in the past about how writing a trilogy is like writing a very long 3-Act structure each with its own complete arcs.)

And I found this very lovely blog post on 3-Act structure, which I thought I would share with you. It’s here:

It’s by K.M. Weiland, whom I generally recommend when it comes to the nuts and bolts of fiction writing. But this is a very complete look at the structure and what needs to happen in each part, and I recommend it if you’re curious or would like a refresher.

As for me, I need more tea and kleenex, and I’ll see you guys next week.

The Midpoint Reversal and the Dark Moment

Another info sheet for you today, Squiders. I’m afraid I spent the time I would have used composing something else (oh well, Thursday I guess) was spent playing Lego Star Wars “with” the not-so-small one. (He held a controller and told me what he wanted to do, and then I did it for him.)

Today we’re looking at the midpoint reversal and the dark moment, which are the midpoint shift and break between acts two and three, respectively.

What are the Midpoint Reversal and Dark Moment?

In general terms, the midpoint reversal is a story structure plot point which happens about halfway through a story. The dark moment is more of a major moment in a character arc than a plot point, though it can function as such.

Okay, what’s a Midpoint Reversal?

Last time we talked about the inciting incident and the first plot point. Most of the first part of the second act (or middle) is a reaction to that first plot point. The characters think they know what’s happening. They have a plan. They are acting on it. Then, about halfway through, something happens which changes everything.




Well, it does depend on the structure and genre of the story, to some extent. But, in general, the midpoint reversal shakes everything up. It changes the direction of the story. It forces the character(s) to reevaluate what they thought they were doing and how they were doing it. It’s called a midpoint reversal because, in general, fortunes for the main character reverse. If things were going well, something terrible happens. If things were going bad, something good happens. To go back to my Star Wars standard, the midpoint of the first movie is when the Millennium Falcon is captured by the Death Star. In the Fellowship of the Ring, it’s when Frodo learns that all he worked for to get the ring to Rivendell isn’t enough—the ring is still not safe.

Some examples of “good” reversals are in the Lion King, when Simba is rescued from the desert (and despair) by Timon and Pumbaa, and in the Hunger Games when Peeta saves Katniss instead of killing her.

So, what you’re saying is…?

Halfway through, something MAJOR needs to change. You can do this a number of ways, but it should be something big, at least for your main character. (A midpoint reversal can be an internal event as much as an external event.) It should also be something that flows logically from the first half of the story, but still be a surprise or major roadblock.

In a classic hero’s journey, the midpoint reversal is known as the Ordeal.

Why do I need one?

Let’s face it, the longest part of any story is the middle. In general, it’s twice as long as either the beginning or the end. And there’s a tendency for stories to “sag” in the middle. A midpoint reversal (or shift, as it is sometimes known) gives you something exciting and important to use to buoy up the whole thing. It helps solidify the main conflict of the story, give the character direction, and make the transition from the first half of the story (the reaction stage, if you will) to the second half (the active stage).

To sum up…

A midpoint reversal stirs things up in the middle of a story so people don’t get bored or figure out where you’re going with things too easy. Some of the things it can do include:

  • Adding a time limit before something terrible happens
  • Removing allies or support main character was relying on
  • Revealing new information that completely changes main character’s world view
  • Raising the stakes
  • Introducing final conflict/antagonist (if not clear before)

Okay, what about a Dark Moment?

A dark moment, sometimes called the black moment, is an event that falls near or at the end of the second act (or middle). It is a point when it seems like all is lost, when whatever your character was relying on has failed, and there seems to be nowhere left to go.

Do I need a Dark Moment?

Not necessarily, but it’s generally considered better to have one. By severely testing your characters, you make the end victory (if they have one) all the more sweet.

How do I set up a Dark Moment?

Dark moments are generally considered part of your character’s arc even though they are technically a plot point as well. Often your main character has an internal character arc that they’ve been working on throughout the story, and relating your dark moment to that arc (for example, if a character has been hurt by love in the past and has been working toward love again, a betrayal of that love would be a good catalyst for a dark moment) can be effective. It’s important to remember that the dark moment has to affect your main character to the point where it seems impossible to go on. In other words, it has to be something that matters to them personally.

When does the Dark Moment fall?

Generally 75%-80% of the way throughout the story. It’s generally the turning point between the middle and the end of the story. In a classic hero’s journey, it is the threshold of the Road Back and the Resurrection stages.

If my main character has given up hope, what then?

Actually, you can kind of think of the dark moment as a mini midpoint reversal (which makes sense, since it is often the break between acts two and three). Despite all that has happened, and despite how hopeless everything seems, your character picks up what they have left, makes a decision, and gets on with it, stronger now that they’ve survived their worst nightmare.

What if my character doesn’t have an arc strong enough to warrant a dark moment?

Then you might want to go back through and add some characterization in. But even a one-trick character can have a dark moment. If you’ve got a mostly plot-based story where the main character just wants to get home, making that goal seemingly impossible will still do the trick.

Can I have some examples?

Sure! To stick to my normal examples, the dark moment in A New Hope is when Obi-Wan Kenobi is killed. The dark moment in the Lord of the Rings is when Frodo can’t bring himself to make it up the side of Mount Doom (and Sam has to essentially carry him). And the dark moment in the Harry Potter series is essentially the entirety of the fifth book.

The Inciting Incident

I’m running a storycraft meeting on inciting incidents tonight, Squiders, and since y’all liked my pacing info sheet so much, I thought I’d share my info sheet for inciting incidents as well.

What is an Inciting Incident?

An inciting incident is the first major “event” of a story. In broad terms, it is the incident that sets the story rolling, the event that disrupts your main character’s world. In the Hero’s Journey model, it is the Call to Adventure.

Some writing resources will refer to any major event throughout a story as an inciting incident, but for the sake of our discussion, we will use inciting incident only to refer to the first one.

What isn’t an Inciting Incident?

The term inciting incident is sometimes used interchangeably with other terms, such as First Plot Point. This can be confusing. In some cases an inciting incident will be interchangeable with a first plot point (or act turn, or any number of terms), but in many cases the first plot point comes after. The first plot point is the point where a character begins to act on the events of the inciting incident. For the sake of completeness, we’ll discuss the first plot point a little further along.

What IS an Inciting Incident?

An inciting incident is generally passive–something that happens to your character as opposed they choose to do. They can be positive, negative, or neutral. They can also be arbitrary. Because an inciting incident is not the first plot point, it can be hard to pinpoint what exactly changes that incites the story. In Star Wars, the inciting incident might be Darth Vader capturing Leia’s ship (because then Leia needs rescuing, and it also gives a reason for the droids to leave). It might be when Luke finds the message Leia left in R2D2. Part of it depends on how the story is being framed–as to who is the main character, how close the voice is (omnipresent stories can have different inciting incidents from first person narratives), etc.

Inciting incidents also often reveal what genre a story is, especially in stories that have real world trappings.

Do I Have to Have an Inciting Incident?

Yes. Without one, you have no story.

Does It Reveal the Main Plot?

Not necessarily. The only requirement of the inciting incident is that changes the main character’s life in some manner. It may not reveal the overall plot of a story. For example, the inciting incident in Harry Potter is when he finds out he’s a wizard–but that tells us nothing about Voldemort, the prophecy, or things to come. But no matter what comes next, Harry’s life has changed.

However, often the inciting incident causes your main character to want (or not want) something, which can lead into the main plot.

When Does an Inciting Incident Happen?

Generally, an inciting incident takes place some time during the first quarter (approximately 20-25%) of a story. It has to happen before the first plot point (which is the break between acts 1 and 2, if using an act structure). In many cases, it happens within the first 10% of a story. In some cases, it can happen before the story starts (off-screen) or at the same time as the first plot point.

What Happens Before an Inciting Incident?

Before an inciting incident is the status quo. We see the main character, the world they live in, and their normal life. Often some sort of stake is introduced, something that the character is willing to fight to defend, as this may provide motivation for the character later. Generally the main character also has some sort of more mundane issue motivating them at the moment, which may or may not be related to the main plot.

What Happens After an Inciting Incident?

After the inciting incident we have the build-up to the main plot and the first plot point. This can be short or long, depending on how close the inciting incident happens to the first plot point. In many cases, whatever dilemma the character was worrying about before the incident continues to dominate. But eventually things come to a head and the first plot point happens.

About That First Plot Point

The first plot point is where the main story gets rolling. It’s where the main character makes a decision and begins to act on it. It’s where Frodo decides to take the ring to Mordor, it’s where Luke decides to go rescue Leia. In a Hero’s Journey, it’s the Crossing the Threshold. At this point, the main character absolutely can not go back to the way things were. The antagonist is often introduced or directly responsible for this plot point. The main character may learn that what he thought he knew was all a lie. The first plot point happens 20-25% through the story and bridges between act 1 and act 2.

So, there you go, Squiders. Agree with my definitions? Anything you would add?

Oh, Prologues

You know prologues, don’t you, Squiders? They lurk at the very beginning of some books, being all secretive and yet revealing at the same time. And then the first chapter starts and you have no idea what’s happening and who those people were and how anything ties together.

Prologues have long been a fantasy staple. Often they reveal events from the past that will eventually lead to the events happening in the main body of the book. Sometimes they reveal the inciting event by the antagonist.

What I find interesting about prologues is that they seem to be something that authors do when they’re newer, and then, as they become more experienced, they stop using them.

In fact, it seems like prologues as a whole are passe. I read a quote from some author somewhere (I am terrible at linking quotes to people–sorry!) that essentially said something like “If your prologue includes important information, it should be in the narrative, and if it doesn’t, why is it there?”

I find them a little jarring myself, honestly. They normally involve characters who we may never see again, or at least not for quite some time, so I find it confusing to switch to the viewpoint character in chapter one. And often the information given doesn’t become relevant for quite some time, or I have information that the main character doesn’t, and it causes a weird disconnect in the narrative.

That’s not to say that prologues can’t be done well, but most of them do seem to be a little superfluous.

Hey, I used to do them too. The first draft of Shards even had an artsy one that I still kind of like, though it wasn’t adding enough value to be kept in the final version. (Though I might share if you ask nicely. It’s not very long.) And I do think they’re kind of helpful from a writing standpoint, because it can help you flesh out background events so your actual narrative is stronger and more rounded.

What are your feelings on the subject, Squiders? Yea or nay? Which prologues have you really liked?