There are many times in life where you encounter the biggest slog in the middle of something. Take a school year, for instance. This excerpt is being released at the tail end of January, a point where spring break is barely visible on the horizon and summertime only a dream. For many high schoolers, especially seniors, this time is often marked by drowsiness and a severe lack of enthusiasm. Grades slip, tardies are handed out more regularly, unexcused absences become the norm. By late March, however, the slump ends for many as exam season comes into focus, giving them a renewed sense of purpose, a “climax” if you will.
The point of this lengthy intro was, in essence, to explain the main reason why many aspiring authors never complete their dream novel. While there are compulsory education laws, no truancy officers are going to come knocking down your door if you quit halfway through Chapter 12 of your sci-fi romance epic. At a certain point for many unprepared writers, they grow tired of their story as weeks turn to months, and they begin to question what the purpose of it all was. Without a clear roadmap for where they want to go, and things growing more and more aimless by the day, they eventually shelve their manuscript in the attic and move on to “bigger and better things.”
Even with experienced writers, the problem of the mid-novel slog never truly goes away and often plagues the first drafts of even the most acclaimed novelists. Many say that you should go into your novel with at least two events fully formed: inciting incident and climax. I would add a third event to that list: the midpoint.
The midpoint, as defined by mathematical terminology, is the “exact middle” of something. This is also true in story structure. Traditionally, the midpoint takes place in the middle of the second act of the story. It marks the moment where the protagonist goes from a reactionary to an active character. Instead of things happening to the character, he or she finally decides to take matters into their own hands and fight their antagonist head-on.
Midpoints are not sudden left-turns out of nowhere, of course. As with all parts of the story, it should make sense considering the sum of all previous events. At the same time, however, it must be a significant departure from the first half of the story, and this is because the protagonist can no longer have the option to act defensively. Whether it’s the capture of someone they love, a death of a close friend, or even something as simple as a phone call, the midpoint scene marks that shift. It is the scene that any reader could point to and say, with complete certainty, that this is where the protagonist realizes that they must “attack” in order to achieve their goal, whether it be spiritual or physical.
For a real-world example, take the US’s involvement in World War 2. For the first couple years of the war, while not directly involved in the confrontation, they sided with the Allied Powers by providing them resources and condemning the actions of the Axis Powers. At this point, they were simply reacting to the war and the evil practices of Germany and Japan. However, this changed on December 7th, 1941, when Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese. With such a direct confrontation, the US had no choice but to take action and join the war. In this case, the bombing of Pearl Harbor would be considered a midpoint in the story of the US’s involvement in World War 2.
The midpoint is one of the toughest aspects of story structure to get right, but it is the linchpin that binds every great novel together. Learning how to perfect a midpoint early on is a key skill for any aspiring writer. Once you can successfully mark this transition, you will have a more compelling narrative, a more interesting protagonist, and a more captivating story.
Do you have specific questions about midpoint that weren't answered in this section? Leave a comment down below and the author of this post will answer it when our next entry is posted. Note: Questions posted after 2/12 may not be answered.
First person, second person, third limited, third omniscient. All perspectives have their advantages and disadvantages, though you will eventually find your preference. Today, we’ll discuss each point of view and when they’re best used.
First Person: First person is what I’ll find in most YA novels. First person allows for the reader to create a greater connection with the protagonist, since they get to see everything through the protagonist’s eyes. It works best when the thoughts and perceptions of a character are more integral to a story than the objective observations and actions. However, first person can be a challenge if I don’t fully understand my character. It needs to be personal and have a voice specific to that character, otherwise the narration and the actions/dialogue of that character don’t match up. This will completely take the reader out of my novel.
Second Person: It’s not often you find a story written in second person, much less an entire novel. The main reason? It’s hard to pull off. By making the narration from the perspective of “you,” the reader suddenly expects to see everything as they normally would, perceive things through their own eyes as opposed to someone else's. So you suddenly have the choice of either creating a more objective story, or adding the possibility of the perception of the narrator not matching up with the reader. Second person is best used for short fiction, and in works of horror, since most people will react similarly when placed in an eerie environment.
Third Person Objective: This is another hard one to pull off for a novel, since it removes that personal take readers often search for in a novel. It reads more like a documentary than anything else. However, this can be an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on the content of your novel. Crime novels or mystery novels benefit from a more objective perspective. The reader acts as an onlooker, watching the events of the mystery unfold without needing the perspective of a specific character.
Third Person Limited: If a novel isn’t written in first person, then chances are it’s written in third person limited. They serve a similar purpose, seeing the thoughts of a singular protagonist. However, while first person is more personal, third person limited allows for the reader to form their own opinion. A first person narration likely wants the reader to empathize with the protagonist, regardless of their actions. Third person limited lets the reader view the actions and motives of the protagonist and decide for themselves whether or not they’re an empathetic character.
Third Person Omniscient: This is Lynn’s personal favorite point of view to write from. The narrator gets to play a sort of god, viewing into the motivations and perspectives of multiple, if not all characters. If the author has multiple protagonists, this is the perspective they should probably write from. However, this can get confusing at times for the reader if you don’t denote where the perspective changes.
Don’t be afraid to blend points of view either. Some novels have a god-like narrator who mixes in their opinion while documenting events. Your point of view will shape your story. One bad scene won’t ruin the whole piece, but the point of view stays with the entire plot. If the point of view works against the story, then it may ruin the story for your reader. But, with the right perspective, your piece can and will flourish. Choose wisely.
Do you have specific questions about point of view that weren't answered in this section? Leave a comment down below and the author of this post will answer it when our next entry is posted. Note: Questions posted after 1/29 may not be answered.
Questions from "How To Write An Action Scene":
How do you avoid over-describing an action scene?
Great question. The best way to avoid over describing your action scene is to look at it like poetry. Weird, I know, but stick with me. You want to use as little language as possible while portraying as much imagery as possible. You want a rhythm that imitates a heartbeat, breathing, punches, whatever as long as its physical and shrieks of mortality. In essence you want your scene to read like prose poetry. If you keep that image in mind, your scene won’t be too heavy.
Welcome back, novel enthusiasts, to the Column. Today, we’re exploring the most surefire distinguisher of a great writer—action scenes. Beautifully written battles, street brawls, assassinations, heists, emotional breakdowns, and daring escapes add zest and passion to the otherwise calm experience of reading. Hearts hammer, fingers rattle like leaves, and minds kaleidoscope in colorful impressions of dirty alleys and red.
If you’re good.
If you have no clue what you’re doing, none of that happens. Suddenly the reader yawns through another paragraph, not actually seeing any of what you’re saying. Sadly, the latter is more commonly found in your average novel, but there are many ways to beat the odds.
First, you have to ask yourself, does this action scene actually matter? The point of scenes like these is to facilitate change or demonstrate a situation and character. If you write your scene and find that if you deleted it, your story would be the exact same, then keep it deleted. Nothing smarts more than an overindulgent author that can’t stop showing off how their character has all these super cool power moves. If it doesn’t add or change something, it doesn’t matter, so don’t make me read it!
Now that that’s out of the way, onto the fun stuff. If you really want to make your scene come alive, research. Research, research, research! Nothing delights the reader more than when an author introduces a weapon the readers had never heard of, or a martial arts move that comes off as totally rad. On the same token, though, if your character is an assassin that’s been assassinating for decades, and they keep throwing their knives wrong, readers will know and email you sources. Don’t test them.
Not only will researching keep angry know-it-alls off your back, but you’ll also be able to write your scene easier. Most of us have never seen a man getting shot, or had to calm down a friend in the midst of PTSD charged mania. So, instead of guessing what it’s like, research and fill your mind with delightfully random knowledge that will surprise and draw in your reader.
However, avoid making your action scenes heavy. As a rule of thumb, in a time of suspense, try to keep sentences short, as reading it aloud naturally quickens the breath and heart rate. However, if your character is cool and calculating, they’ll think more rationally in a fight than a more hotheaded character. As a result, they may have longer sentence strings amidst punchy movement descriptions.
Use imagery to spice things up as well. What do they hear, taste? The woosh of the crematorium furnace they’re hiding in turning on? Their wife’s lipstick mixing with the metallic tang of the lockpick tools hidden in their mouth? Tell me, please! And add dialogue. Witty quipping, mouth-drying threats, pitiful prayer, and shocking realizations in an action scene? To die for! It’ll not only help you build character, but also give breathers in between paragraphs and paragraphs of action. My final piece of advice, if you look at a real fight or chase scene, they don’t last super long. Honestly, most fights don’t pass the minute mark. So if your one-on-one brawl is eight pages long, reconsider.
So happy writing! And keep in mind, if you’re not crying, sweating, or left dazed by an action scene you wrote; Do. It. Again.
It’s worth it.
-Chaunti T. Hatchett
Do you have specific questions about antagonists and character flaws that weren't answered in this section? Leave a comment down below and the author of this post will answer it when our next entry is posted. Note: Questions posted after 1/22 may not be included.