Sunday, July 15, 2007

Week Eight - The Crunchy Center (and the Ticking Clock)

(Sorry all you chocoholics... I'm talking about the center of your story, not the center of a Kit Kat bar. Didn't mean to get your hopes up.)

Yes, the crunchy center.

If you've been writing your 10 pages per week, you should be smack dab in the middle of your story right now. I mentioned earlier about Digging Plotholes, but I also want to say that in general, the middle is where things get a little wacky.

Usually the opening scenes have been played out in our minds a gazillion times, so we've got that one down. And we usually know how we want it to end (although it doesn't always end up there, mind you). It's the big gaping middle section that's got to keep you and your audience engaged.

This is about the time you'll feel tempted to go back to the beginning and edit, because you know that part. I can't say how many times I've read an amateur script that has a honed and polished first 10 pages, then falls to pieces. Stick with moving forward so your story stays even.

OSV (Octopus Sting Victim) sent me this tidbit:

I think the big challenge is that you have to aggressively move the plot forward from mid-point on (no more setting things up) and you're trying to increase the tension and start to pay things off instead of setting them up --

I think OSV is right. This 1/2 of the story is about pay-off. Whatever you foreshadowed, whatever goal you introduced, whatever clues you've gathered, it's time to pick up the pace and start putting it all together.

To increase the tension in this section, it's good to have a ticking clock. If you haven't set one up in the beginning, think of how you might incorporate one (you can add it in the beginning during the rewrite). Not every story absolutely needs one, but see if it will increase the stakes and keep your story moving.

In Big Fish the protagonist needed to make peace with his Dad before he died and it was too late. In Indiana Jones the protagonist must rescue the Arc of the Covenant before the Nazi's do or they will use it to take over the world.

One way of looking at this is:

My protagonist MUST __________ BEFORE __________ or else ___________.

If you can fill this in, you've just found your stakes and your ticking clock.


1) Continue to type up your written exercises. Take 15 minutes each day to do this.

2) One way I keep ideas flowing when I feel I'm stuck in the middle is to play the "what if" game. You have to be willing to let yourself totally go on this one.

Look at where you are in your draft. What's the next scene going to be? Let's say it's the scene where Stilt takes Howler and Tiger Cat to see Madame M (an octopus of course).

So write the title of the scene at the top of your page. Then, for 5-7 minutes, as fast as you can, make a LIST of what if statements.

What if Madame M works for The Vine?
What if Stilt kills Madame M?
What if Madame M gives Howler a magic charm?
What if Madame M is really a goddess?
etc. etc. etc.

Then, pick one of the scenarios and do a "scene dump." This means basically telling the scene as quickly as possible (no need to time, but 5-7 mins if you want). No dialogue. Start with WHEN instead of WHAT IF, like so:

When Madame M gives Howler a magic charm in the form of a locket, he doesn't realize what it is. He only takes it out of fear and respect. He later gives it to the child in the World of Waiting Spirits, not realizing that when she opens the locket...

3) Work on your script. Your scene should be ready to go after this exercise. You know the drill, drop and give me 20... and then give me 20 more...

Have a great week!


Vicki said...

Great post. The sagging middle is always the hardest for me. I know the beginning and I know the ending but what to do with them in the middle.

I learned to write it anyway. It may be POS but once I'm past it and well on my way to the end I can usually go back and fix it during the edits.

OpenChannel said...

I know what you mean... you've just got to get it down. You have nothing to work with if you don't.

more4dan said...

I've been MIA due to taking a vacation. I'm actually not sure which week I'm should be on.

I brought my notebook along on my trip, but didn't right a darn thing.

Time to get back into the swing of things.

I like the "what if" exercise. I think that could work before writing any scene.