Posted On August 23, 2017 by Print This Post

Why You Should Write Your Novel From The Middle with James Scott Bell

James Scott Bell Writing the Knock Out EndingDue to a scheduling issue, we’re running and old post by James Scott Bell. 

Some time ago I decided to do an in-depth study on what many writing teachers call the “midpoint.” If you do a search about midpoint on the Internet you’ll find all sorts of ideas about what is supposed to happen here. Some people talk about “raising the stakes.” Others talk about this being the point of commitment. Still others say it’s a change in the direction of the story, or the gathering of new information, or the start of time pressure.

Amidst this confusion I took some favorite novels and movies and rooted around in their midsections.

What I found blew me away. Even though the writers may not have been conscious of it, they were creating something in the middle of their stories that pulled together the entire narrative. It was not a scene—it was a moment within the scene.

I call it a “mirror moment.”

At this point in the story, the character figuratively looks at himself. He takes stock of where he is in the conflict and, depending on the type of story, has either of two basic thoughts. In a character-driven story, he looks at himself and wonders what kind of person he is. What is he becoming? If he continues the fight of Act 2, how will he be different? What will he have to do to overcome himself? Or how will he have to change in order to battle successfully?

The second type of look is more for plot-driven fiction. It’s where the character looks at himself and considers the odds against him. At this point the forces seem so vast that there is virtually no way to go on and not face certain death. That death can be professional, physical, or psychological.

In Casablanca, at the exact midpoint of the film, Ilsa comes to Rick’s saloon after closing. Rick has been getting drunk, remembering with bitterness what happened with him and Ilsa in Paris. Ilsa comes to him to try to explain why she left him in Paris, that she found out her husband Viktor Lazlo was still alive. She pleads with him to understand. But Rick is so bitter he basically calls her a whore. She weeps and leaves. And Rick, full of self disgust, puts his head in his hands. He is thinking, “What have I become?”

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The rest of the film will determine whether he stays a selfish drunk, or regains his humanity. That, in fact, is what Casablanca is truly about, in both narrative and theme.

In The Fugitive, an action film, at the very center point of the movie Dr. Kimble is awakened in the basement room he’s renting, by cops swarming all over the place. He thinks they are after him, but it turns out they are actually after the son of the landlord. But the damage is done. Kimble breaks down. He is looking at the odds, thinking there’s no way he can win this fight. There are too many resources arrayed against him.

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Then I went looking for the midpoint of Gone With The Wind, the novel. I opened to the middle of the book and started hunting. And there it was. At the end of Chapter 15, Scarlett looks inside herself, realizing that no one else but she can save Tara.

The trampled acres of Tara were all that was left to her, now that Mother and Ashley were gone, now that Gerald was senile from shock . . . security and position had vanished overnight. As from another world she remembered a conversation with her father about the land and wondered how she could have been so young, so ignorant, as not to understand what he meant when he said that the land was the one thing in the world worth fighting for.

Scarlett wonders what kind of person she has to become in order to save Tara. And the decision is made in the last paragraph:

 

Yes, Tara was worth fighting for, and she accepted simply and without question the fight. No one was going to get Tara away from her. No one was going to send her and her people adrift on the charity of relatives. She would hold Tara, if she had to break the back of every person on it.

 

And that is the essence of GWTW. It’s the story of a young Southern belle who is forced (via a doorway of no return called The Civil War) to save her family home.

 

Middle cover w-borderI opened to the middle of The Hunger Games, and found the “I’m going to die” type moment right there where it should be:

 

I know the end is coming. My legs are shaking and my heart is too quick . . . . My fingers stroke the smooth ground, sliding easily across the top. This is an okay place to die, I think.

 

Just for fun, I tried this out on a Lee Child book. Jack Reacher is not what you would call an introspective type, but look at page 169 of Bad Luck and Trouble:

 

“So like I said, what are you running from?”
(Reacher) “From being like people, I guess.” …
“From what? Being like me?”
“From being different than we used to be.”
“We’re all different than we used to be.”
“We don’t all have to like it.”
“I don’t like it,” O’Donnell said. “But I deal with it.”
Reacher nodded. “You’re doing great, Dave. I mean it. It’s me that I worry about. I’ve been looking at you and Neagley and Karla and feeling like a loser.”
“Really?”
“Look at me.”

Great storytellers who are instinctive about their work hit on this point by instinct. What I want to do is “pop the hood” so all writers can see this moment and use it to their advantage.

Since I incorporated “look in the mirror moment” into my workshops, students have reported it has been invaluable in deepening their stories and taking them a whole other level. The nice thing is you can explore this moment at any time in your writing process. If you like to outline, it can tell you what your story is really about, so all your outlined scenes are organic and unified.

If you’re a pantser, you can pause in your pantsing anytime you choose and get illumination on your whole project just by brainstorming the mirror moment.

I personally use this at the very beginning of my planning. When I have a main character and a basic concept, I go to the mirror moment and play around until something clicks. And it always does.

Then the lights go on.

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Bio: James Scott Bell is an award-winning thriller author and bestselling writing coach. He served as fiction columnist for Writer’s Digest and has taught workshops around the world. Visit his website www.jamesscottbell.com. This post is based on his #1 Amazon bestselling writing book, Write Your Novel From the Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone in Between.
His website is www.JamesScottBell.com.
You can follow him at Twitter.com/jamesscottbell and on Facebook, http://www.facebook.com/pages/James-Scott-Bell/108765742543789

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2 Responses to “Why You Should Write Your Novel From The Middle with James Scott Bell”

  1. Loved the post the first time I saw it. Love it again now. The book is great, too.

    Posted by Staci Troilo | August 23, 2017, 8:39 am
  2. Love this! Examples (here from movies and books) to explain and illustrate the article, is so helpful, and James Scott Bell always delivers. You can tell he really wanna teach. One of my favourite writing gurus for sure. Thank you for posting this. 🙂

    Posted by Leah | September 23, 2017, 5:17 am

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