Welcome to my new Wednesday feature. I’ll offer my thoughts on the books and websites geared toward fiction writers. A little bit review and a little expansion on the ideas I glean from my study of the craft.
So today I’ll start out with the new book from James Scott Bell. Now, Bell is one of those guys whose published novels you may not see next to King’s latest release, but the man is a fantastic writer and an even better teacher of the craft. If you ever get a chance to listen to him in person, don’t pass it up.
I’ve read several opinions of how to handle the novel’s midpoint. Some say it should be a major disaster. Some say the loss of an ally. The first time I heard it referred to as “the man in the mirror” moment was at a conference where Bell was presenting. He used a few well-known movies to make his point. My favorite was Casablanca, where Rick has just called Ilsa a whore (though not his exact words). The next few seconds are Hollywood legend. Rick buries his head in his hands and you can see that he hates the man he’s become.
That’s the man-in-the-mirror moment.
Until I read Write Your Novel, I was a bit confused. I love the man-in-the-mirror moment. But so many great books and movies don’t contain that. They have disasters or a near-death experiencs.
Bell straightened me out. It goes a little something like this: for a character driven novel, you’ll use the man-in-the-mirror. For a plot driven novel, a disaster, specifically a point where the character realizes how much the odds are stacked against her.
For that, Bell uses Katniss from The Hunger Games. The novel is not character driven. It is plot driven. And Katniss, at her midpoint, is near death. She hasn’t found water and has given up. She realizes just how impossible the odds are, and they are definitely not “ever in her favor.”
Can you use both options? Yes, but one will dominate. Hey, our job is hard enough. No need to cloud up that midpoint scene with a near-death experience and deep inner reflection. In my never humble opinion, I love stories where the character has that moment of reflection, that paragraph or three where our hero asks, “What have I become and what do I want to become?”
Bell, in his unique and clear style, walks us through the options. Getting to the point of his book, though, he goes so far as to suggest that this is where to begin our story. Not an entire written scene (though not out of the question), but decide what your character’s choices are or decide how you’ll show how the odds are stacked against her.
From that midpoint, you can come up with the “before” world and the “after” world. Because a change must happen at the midpoint. Readers expect it. Make it count. And there’s no better way to ensure that it counts than to get it on paper when the story idea is hot and fresh.
I’m a bit more of a plotter, but pansters will love this concept as well. All Bell suggests is that you determine the midpoint, the pre-story psychology, and the transformation. A few sentences and you have your roadmap. Of course, for the plotter, you’ll want to fill in a few more scenes.
I highly recommend the book. It’s only $2.99 for the Kindle version and a quick read. Bell even goes on to give us the basics of novel writing, making this a perfect read for the new novelist. For those of us who’ve been at it a while, the midpoint lesson is a golden nugget. The rest is a wonderful refresher.
So what about you? What is your character’s midpoint moment?