Beginnings, Middles, & Ends–What Goes Where?

Friday, I had a pretty productive day. I sat down and did some thinking about some new scenes in my WIP, and I ended up with a basic plot arc–styled after Martha Alderson’s Plot Planner in Blockbuster Plots-Pure and Simple. I took a photo and posted it on my other blog, if you want to check it out.

As I worked on the plot arc, though, I could see all these threads that I don’t have woven in yet. This is fine, obviously, since I’m just getting started. Still, too many loose story threads, just like too many loose threads on my clothes, can drive me a bit nuts until I get them a little more tucked away.

So this morning I’ve been browsing through some writing books–reading up on beginnings, middles, and ends–and trying for an early placement of some of these threads. This seems to help me look at the rising (hopefully!) tension of the plot, to think about where the big things should happen and how I can build to those spots. For me, it’s mostly about what happens:

  1. Before the hero’s first threshold–that inciting incident that is a microcosm of the whole, big story problem.
  2. After the hero’s death (symbolic or otherwise)–when they face their worst crisis and make their most important (and hardest) choice.
  3. Everything in between.

Here are a few things I came up with, in general terms, for what we should be doing in each of those sections.

Beginnings

  • Introduce the compelling hero
  • Establish the hero’s story goal/problem
  • Create a push/pull tension for hero around that problem
  • Establish the primary/most threatening antagonist
  • Establish the story world
  • Disturb that story world (seriously disturb it!)

Middles

  • Strengthen hero’s goal & opposition to that goal
  • Amp up the stakes for hero
  • Amp up the stakes for the antagonist
  • Strengthen and complicate character relationships
  • Throw in some new, surprising information (Thanks to Jordan E. Rosenfeld, in Make a Scene, for this one.)
  • Establish a sense of death hanging over the story world (And thanks to James Scott Bell, in Plot & Structure, for this one.)
  • Set up hero to make big choice, while making it “impossible” for hero to make that choice
  • Seed and (later) reveal secrets.

Endings

  • Resolve all story threads
  • Test, one more time, hero’s big choice
  • Show the impact of that choice choice–on hero and the whole story world

What about you. When you plot, do you just work through scenes in the order they play out? Or do you, like me, try to position them in one of the main sections of the story arc? And, please, freel free to tell me anything I’ve missed! 🙂

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12 thoughts on “Beginnings, Middles, & Ends–What Goes Where?

  1. With my previous novels, I began with an outline that more often than not included the main elements (usually by accident).

    Now, though, my next WIP (have no idea what it will be yet) will start out with more structure.

    Thanks for reminding me about Bell’s book. I think I’ll read it before I begin.

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  2. beckylevine says:

    Bell’s book is good, isn’t it? So is Jordan’s, with her strong focus on scene structure. I keep wanting more structure, the longer I write. Good luck with this one!

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  3. Becky,
    This all looks so good–and I’ll have to print it out to see if I followed along properly. I’ll have to take a look at Bell and Jordan’s books.
    I find I write a bit like I drive to a destination. My husband will get out a huge map and find out where he is in relation to this mountain range or that ocean. If it’s east or north. If it’s high altitude or low.
    I get in the car and just drive, hoping someone will be around to tell me, “Go left. Go right. Your destination is straight up ahead.” Sometimes that works…sometimes it doesn’t.:)

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    • beckylevine says:

      Hey, Jana, if our drives to East of Eden are any indication, we do always get there! And the route is fun. 🙂

      I know I don’t have everything, at all, but a starting place feels good.

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  4. Funny you should be posting this now. The Bell book and Nancy Kress’s book, Beginnings, Middles & Ends sit permanently on my desk, as easy reference. Though no matter how much I have these resources at the ready, nothing helps more than actually working through and making sure all the ends are tied.

    Great post!

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  5. What a thrill to see your Plot Planner (on your other site) and to know BBP is a help to you. Very gratifying.

    Can’t wait to read your WIP!!

    I’m a sucker for historicals and yours sounds like a read I’ll definitely love!

    Thanks again.

    Like

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