Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Climbing the Story Mountain

Last week for the writing tip we talked about the beginning of a book and that a story should start with change that will alter the hero’s life. He/she will never be the same. Now we’re going to talk about the middle of your book.

For me, as I’m thinking of a story, I’ve always felt that if I have the beginning and ending in mind I can start writing, and that the middle will take care of itself. But that is not to say that the middle is not important or needs crafting. The middle takes your hero/herione on a hike up a story mountian to the climax. Each scene MUST build tension, develop even more change, infuse complications, and keep the hero/herione focused upon reaching his/her goal, which is the top of the mountain and the climax of your book. So let’s break it down with a do and don’t list.

  • Build tension
  • Add complications
  • Demand action

  • Delay—belay
  • Add unbeatable odds
  • Rehash
Let’s talk about the do list. Your story is building, one scene at a time and a misstep could make your hero fall off his story mountain. Plus, with each step forward your hero comes upon complications. These complications have him make either a good or bad decision, but he’s always moving forward which builds tension. Complications demand action from the hero to overcome. What the hero decides to do with each complication adds another layer to the story and can provide important information that he will use to help win the climax or reach the mountain peak.

Now let’s focus on the don’t side of the middle. You’ll notice that with delay I added belay. If you delay your story with unnecessary information, such as having your hero stray from the path of reaching his goal to solve his problems, you belay progress and your story dies. Belay means to stop or quit, but it also means obtaining a hold during mountain climbing. The hero can't get stuck as he climbs his story mountain. Don’t belay the story with unnecessary holds (information). This happens in many ways for instance, you’ve come across some wonderful research that you want to include in your story, so you add it and then all of a sudden you don’t know what to do next. If you find yourself in this situation it’s because you’ve belayed your hero and taken him in a direction he doesn’t want to go. Some call this writer’s block, which is really a story roadblock because you’ve taken a detour off your story mountain. Always be on the alert for this malady.

Another problem is having unbeatable odds without an equalizer. Always make sure your hero has something that will give him strength as he faces his foe. Think of David and Goliath. Goliath was a mighty foe, but David had an equalizer…his sling.

The next don’t is rehash. I’ve been guilty of this and it’s easy to fall into this habit. Because I read one chapter at a time at my writer’s group I fell into the habit of rehashing the story within each chapter. I did this so my fellow writers would know what was going on. DON’T do this. Your reader is very savvy and has stayed up into the wee hours of the night reading your book. If you rehash the reader will grow weary, think your hero is stupid, and wonder if the writer has Alzheimer’s. Never underestimate your readers. They have memories, they have been keeping score, and they are anxious to see what happens next, not rehash the past.

There you have it. Always remember each scene needs to build toward the climax! Everything the hero thinks, says, and does moves the hero farther up his story mountain.

What are some tips you’ve found that helps in writing the middle of a story?


  1. The middle is usually my greatest challenge.
    I've always heard the secret is to write a great beginning and a great ending, and then make sure those meet as close to the middle as possible. LOL

  2. Building tension is so, so, so, so important. It's what keeps the reader reading.

  3. I think I fell off the story mountain for a bit, but I'm working my way back up. Thanks for the advice.