It's That Time of Year Again: The PWoC Returns

By JD Rhoades
The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

Yes, it’s November, folks, and we all know what that means.

It means it’s time
for Christmas decorations to start appearing on the shelves and in the
streets. It’s time for Christmas commercials to begin showing up on TV.
And it’s time for loud (and ultimately useless) grousing about how awful
it is that all this is happening when it’s not even Thanksgiving yet.


All of this is followed, as the
night follows the day, by the annual Phony War on Christmas (PWOC), that
yearly ritual in which the most privileged class of people (white,
straight Christians) in the most privileged country on Earth get to
whine about how they’re being oppressed because someone wished them
“Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”


As always, the first cries of woe
came from our old friends at the Resentment Channel, aka Fox “News.”
Bill O’Reilly, whose platoons of researchers apparently comb the
Interwebs looking for stories to spin up into new occasions for
right-wing butthurt, announced, in his words, “the first salvo in the war on Christmas.”


In one school district in
Maryland, O’Reilly said indignantly, “there will be no mention of
Christmas or any other religious holiday on the school calendars going
forward. That’s because a Muslim did something!”


Now, you may be thinking,
“Doggone those Muslims! Now they’ve gotten Christmas banned! Is there no
end to their perfidy?” Not so fast. What “a Muslim” (actually several
local Muslim leaders) did in Montgomery County, Maryland, was ask for a
day off for one of their own religious holidays, known as Eid al-Adha or
“feast of the sacrifice.” They were certainly not asking that there be
no Christmas.


I imagine they didn’t expect the
school board’s reaction, which was to totally punt on the issue and
remove all religious designations from the school holidays, both
Christian and Jewish. It was a decision which satisfied no one.


Note well that the Christian and
Jewish holidays themselves are still there: Everyone still gets the same
time off for Christmas and Easter, as well as the High Holy Days of
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It’s just that Christmas vacation happens
over what’s now called “winter break.” Easter vacation is where it’s
always been, during “spring break.” As for the Jewish holidays, they’re
designated as days of “no school for students and teachers,” according to a report in the Washington Post.


So the kids still have the same
holidays they had before, to celebrate in any way they and their
families see fit. You’d think that would placate Mr. O’Reilly and his
colleagues. You’d think that, that is, if you’d been living in a cave
without TV for the last 20 years and were unfamiliar with Mr. O’Reilly’s
shtick. This board decision, he groused,
was “wiping out” all our traditions. “They’re wiping out — you know
Christmas and Easter and Passover, these have a Judeo-Christian
tradition in our country,” he said. “So they just wiped out all our
traditions for these people.”


Actually, “they’ve” done no such
thing. While calling the break at the end of the year “Christmas break”
is something we may have gotten used to over the years, I seriously
doubt that anyone regards how it’s designated on the written school
calendar crumpled up in the bottom of Junior’s backpack as one of their
fondly embraced traditions.


In any case, I strongly suspect
that students and parents will still refer to the holidays as “Christmas
break” and “Easter break,” and no one will try to stop them. All will
still be allowed to participate in their real traditional observances of
the season, such as trampling their fellow celebrants on Black Friday
so as to snag the last of the “door buster” 50-inch TVs for $199 at Best
Buy.


I’ve noticed that there doesn’t
seem to be a lot of outcry from Jewish people over the Montgomery County
School Board decision, even though their holidays got the same
treatment as the Christian ones. Perhaps this is because Jewish folks,
having actually been the recent targets of horrific and genocidal
persecution, are less inclined to get their knickers in a twist over
what some school board calls a holiday.


It’s a lesson some people could
stand to learn. If the thing that makes you indignant is a faraway
school board calling the end-of-the-year vacation the “winter” rather
than the “Christmas” break, or the thing you feel the burning need to
protest is someone using “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,”
then I submit that you’ve actually got life pretty good and should just
be thankful for that, it being the season for thanksgiving and all.

Via: J.D. Rhoades

    

Nanowrimo: The Third Quarter Drop Dead

By noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra Sokoloff)

by Alexandra Sokoloff

Home stretch!

Well, theoretically, anyway. But I find that right about now is when people tend to start dropping during Nano. First of all there’s, well, Thanksgiving. Which even though it’s a holiday, involves family, and family is never conducive to marathon writing. (They don’t like to lose us to a book, it’s just the truth. It brings up all kinds of feelings of abandonment and inadequacy. So – pretend you’re going shopping and go to a cafe to write, that’s what they’re for.)

But also, let’s face it, it’s EASY to write a first act. It’s new, it’s fresh, it’s exciting, it’s like the first flush of being in love. You’re so high you don’t stop to think, and that means you don’t get in your own way.

It can even be not so hard to get through Act II, part 1 to the Midpoint. But it’s that third quarter where things get murky. You feel like you’re not getting anywhere. In fact, you have no freaking clue where you are, or why in the hell you’re wherever the hell you are to begin with, and you just want to give up and sleep for a week, or eat turkey and chocolate for a week, or all of the above.

I had a friend in movie development who called it “the third-quarter drop dead.”

Well, here’s an interesting thing. Structurally, this is EXACTLY the point in your story that your hero/ine is feeling those exact same things. In other words, it’s the BLACK MOMENT, or ALL IS LOST MOMENT, or the VISIT TO DEATH, which almost always ends up as the climax or just before the climax of Act II.

It’s as if we as authors have to work ourselves into the exact same hopeless despair as our characters, as if nothing good will ever come out of this situation and we might as well give up right now – in order to convey that emotion on the page and feel that exhilaration when the character SOLVES the problem and gets that final revelation and makes that final plan.

So if you find yourself in this situation, you might want to review the elements of Act II: Part 2, and take a look at some of those questions to see if they might help you find your way.

And remember – the Force is with you.

Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers “Grow, grow.”
– The Talmud

- Alex


=====================================================

All the information on this blog and more is in the writing workbooks. Screenwriting Tricks for Authors and Writing Love, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, II, are available for just $3.99 and $2.99.


- Amazon US

- Amazon UK

- Amaxon DE

- Amazon FR

- Amazon ES

- Amazon IT

If you’re a romance writer, or have a strong love plot or subplot in your novel or script, then Writing Love: Screenwriting Tricks II is an expanded version of the first workbook with a special emphasis on love stories, and more full story breakdowns.

- Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

- Amazon US

- Barnes & Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amazon DE

Via: Alexandra Sokoloff

    

11.21.14

By JT Ellison

Friday afternoon, and I thought I’d start up my productivity notes again.

It’s been a productive week so far. My word count hasn’t been off the charts — only averaged 1500 words a day — but that meets my word goal per day. And I accomplished quite a bit. I managed to build myself a comprehensive outline for the new Nicholas book based on the synopsis Catherine and I cooked up, which will really make things move quickly. I head out to her place to visit and discuss in a couple of weeks, so the more I can have done and planned, the better.

Did the dedication and acknowledgments for WHAT LIES BEHIND, which excitingly went up for pre-order, almost as if it knows it’s got a cover and an opening page and end papers. Funny how that happens. I finished the copyedits on Sunday, so all that’s left is one last pass through to find any issues, and that book will be put to bed entirely.

I should have fun news for you next week regarding the story I’m planning for Brenda Novak’s SWEET DREAMS boxset.

And I’m very excited to see Mockingjay: Part 1 this weekend. Might even brave the crowds tonight. The kittens are not at all happy at this prospect, as Jordan has been jonesing for a fire all day. ( I know this because she stands in front of the fireplace and gives it mournful mirps.) It will be chilly tomorrow; we’ll have one for her then.

It may be a crazy weekend for our world. Here’s hoping everyone stays safe and warm and calm. Happy Friday, and Happy Happy Birthday to my darling middle brother!

Via: JT Ellison

    

Nanowrimo: Elements of Act II, Part 2

By noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra Sokoloff)

by Alexandra Sokoloff

ACT II:2

In a 2-hour movie this section starts at about 60 minutes, and ends at about 90 minutes.

In a 400-page book, this section starts at about p. 300 and ends toward the end of the book.

Now, remember, at the end of Act II, part 1, there is a MIDPOINT CLIMAX, which I’ll review briefly because it’s so important.

In movies the midpoint is usually a big SETPIECE scene, where the filmmakers really show off their expertise with a special effects sequence (as in HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON and HARRY POTTER, 1), or a big action scene (JAWS), or in breathtaking psychological cat-and-mouse dialogue (in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS). It might be a sex scene or a comedy scene, or both in a romantic comedy. Whatever the Midpoint is, it is most likely going to be specific to the promise of the genre.

And I strongly encourage you as authors to pay as much attention to your midpoint as filmmakers do with theirs.

THE MIDPOINT –

- Completely changes the game
- Locks the hero/ine into a situation or action
- Is a point of no return
- Can be a huge revelation
- Can be a huge defeat
- Can be a huge win
- Can be a “now it’s personal” loss
- Can be sex at 60 – the lovers finally get together, only to open up a whole new world of problems

(More on MIDPOINT).

Act II, part 2 will almost always have these elements:

* RECALIBRATING– after the shock or defeat of the game-changer in the midpoint, the hero/ine must REVAMP THE PLAN and try a NEW MODE OF ATTACK.

What’s the new plan?

* STAKES

A good story will always be clear about the stakes. Characters often speak the stakes aloud.

How have the stakes changed? Do we have new hopes or fears about what the protagonist will do and what will happen to him or her?

* ESCALATING ACTIONS/OBSESSIVE DRIVE

Little actions by the hero/ine to get what s/he wants have not cut it, so the actions become bigger and usually more desperate.

Do we see a new level of commitment in the hero/ine?

How are the hero/ine’s actions becoming more desperate?

* It’s also worth noting that while the hero/ine is generally (but not always!) winning in Act II:1, s/he generally begins to lose in Act II:2. Often this is where everything starts to unravel and spiral out of control.

* INCREASED ATTACKS BY ANTAGONIST

Just as the hero/ine is becoming more desperate to get what s/he wants, the antagonist also has failed to get what s/he wants and becomes more desperate and takes riskier actions.

* HARD CHOICES AND CROSSING THE LINE (IMMORAL ACTIONS by the main character to get what s/he wants)

Do we see the hero/ine crossing the line and doing immoral things to get what s/he wants?

* LOSS OF KEY ALLIES (possibly because of the hero/ine’s obsessive actions, possibly through death or injury by the antagonist).

Do any allies walk out on the hero/ine or get killed or injured?

* A TICKING CLOCK (can happen anywhere in the story, or there may not be one.)

* REVERSALS AND REVELATIONS/TWISTS

* THE LONG DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL and/or VISIT TO DEATH (also known as: ALL IS LOST).

There is always a moment in a story where the hero/ine seems to have lost everything, and it is almost always right before the Second Act Climax, or it IS the Second Act Climax.

What is the All Is Lost scene?

* In a romance or romantic comedy, the All Is Lost moment is often a THE LOVER MAKES A STAND scene, where s/he tells the loved one – “Enough of this bullshit waffling, either commit to me or don’t, but if you don’t, I’m out of here.” This can be the hero/ine or the love interest making this stand.

THE SECOND ACT CLIMAX

* Often will be a final revelation before the end game: often the knowledge of who the opponent really is, that will propel the hero/ine into the FINAL BATTLE.

* Often will be another devastating loss, the ALL IS LOST scene. In a mythic structure or Chosen One story or mentor story this is almost ALWAYS where the mentor dies or is otherwise taken out of the action, so the hero/ine must go into the final battle alone.

* Answers the Central Question – and often the answer is “no” – so that the hero/ine again must come up with a whole new plan.

* Often is a SETPIECE.

More discussion on Elements Of Act II:2

=====================================================

All the information on this blog and more is in the writing workbooks. Screenwriting Tricks for Authors and Writing Love, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, II, are available for just $3.99 and $2.99.


- Amazon US

- Amazon UK

- Amaxon DE

- Amazon FR

- Amazon ES

- Amazon IT

If you’re a romance writer, or have a strong love plot or subplot in your novel or script, then Writing Love: Screenwriting Tricks II is an expanded version of the first workbook with a special emphasis on love stories, and more full story breakdowns.

- Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

- Amazon US

- Barnes & Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amazon DE

Via: Alexandra Sokoloff

    

One Of The Best Things About Nashville...

By squarespace@desk.pm

One of this big advantages of living in Nashville is the music. Last night, I had the pleasure of attending an awesome bi-monthly event called EAST SIDE STORYTELLIN’, which is put together by the indomitable Chuck Beard of the very cool East Nashville shop East Side Story. Every event features an author, and a musician. Words, and lyrics. What a beautiful combination.

By the way, Chuck’s bookstore is unique – populated with books by Tennessee authors only. It is a true labor of love, and I can’t recommend buying from him highly enough. Not only is it a cool bookstore, it’s filled with art and love. If you’re in Nashville, stop by. If you’re outside of Nashville – give Chuck a call. He can hook you up with just the right book. Because Nashville – heck, all of Tennessee – is FULL of brilliant writers. We’ve undergone quite the literary renaissance lately, and Chuck has all of us there.

So back to last night – a great match up of words and lyrics. The author was Alecia Whitaker, the music by Alissa Moreno. These two have been teamed together for Alecia’s book, WILDFLOWER, the story of a young singer who’s gotten her big break, and Alissa sang the breakout song that’s featured in the book. There’s even a talent search underway for the next big star, so if you know a great teen signer, send them here.

And I officially have a crush on Alissa Moreno. What a voice! You know how some songs, some people, just strike you? Well, you’ve heard her before, too, though you may not know it. She’s one of those amazingly talented singer/songwriters who populate this town. I bought one of her albums, and I’m stoked to go see her around town.

And since this has turned into a linkfest instead of my initial premise, I’ll get to it now. I am not a signer. I have no discernible musical talent. I played a bunch of instruments in school — clarinet, mostly, but sax and flute and drums and guitar, too — but they didn’t speak to me like words, and I had to choose between band and G&T classes, and I chose the latter. As such, I am always fascinated by people who have both words and melody in their heads. It seems such an ethereal gift, less workmanlike, more tangible than words alone. I know I can turn a phrase, but do I give people goosebumps and make tears come to their eyes?

That’s how I felt last night. That overwhelming spark that sends tingles throughout your body when you hear just the right voice, just the right note, just the right words. I didn’t want the evening to end.

Do check out these extremely talented women, and give Chuck a whirl — you won’t be disappointed.

Have you been moved by anything or anyone lately?

Via: JT Ellison

    

NYC trip

By Toni When Tamar and I were walking around NYC last week, we made a stop at an amazing gelato place (um, Tamar will have to post where it is)… and as we’re standing in there, she’s taste testing all of these wonderfully exotic flavors… you know, things with fruit flavors and strange concoctions that fall into the category […]

Via: Toni McGee Causey

    

Guess What’s Available for Pre-Order???

By squarespace@desk.pm

WHAT LIES BEHIND, the 4th Samantha Owens thriller, is available for pre-order!

Here‘s the jacket copy:

Waking to sirens in the night is hardly unusual for Samantha Owens. No longer a medical examiner, she doesn’t lose sleep over them, but a routine police investigation in her neighborhood has her curious. When her homicide detective friend, Darren Fletcher, invites her to look over the evidence, she jumps at the chance and immediately realizes the crime scene has been staged. What seems to be a clear case of murder/suicide—a crime of passion—is anything but. The discovery of toxic substances in hidden vials indicates that something much more sinister is at play…

As Fletch and Sam try to understand what and who they are dealing with, they are summoned to a meeting at the State Department. High-level officials are interested in what they know and seem to be keeping secrets of their own. It’s up to Sam and Fletch to uncover what lies behind the deception as the threat of bioterrorism is exposed, and her boyfriend, Xander Whitfield, may be in the line of fire.

Unsure who to trust, Sam and Fletch find themselves up against very powerful people at every stage in the investigation. No one is who they appear to be and with every minute that passes, the danger escalates. It’s Sam’s most complex case yet and the terrifying reality is beyond anything she could have imagined.

Sound good? I am stoked about this book. It’s ver intense, and Sam kicks some serious ass. And just wait until you see the cover! I’ll debut it for my newsletter readers first, so if you’re not a part of that awesome community, get thee signed up now!

WHAT LIES BEHIND releases May 26, 2015, in hardcover and digital. This is so exciting!

Via: JT Ellison

    

The Harrowing, $1.99!

By noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra Sokoloff)

Five troubled students left alone on their isolated college campus over the long Thanksgiving break confront their own demons and a malevolent presence – that may or may not be real.

“Absolutely gripping…It is easy to imagine this as a film. Once started, you won’t want to stop reading.”
London Times

“Poltergeist meets The Breakfast Club as five college students tangle with an ancient evil presence. Plenty of sexual tension… quick pace and engaging plot.”

Kirkus Reviews

“The Harrowing is a real page-turner, a first novel of unusual promise.”
Ira Levin, author of Rosemary’s Baby




Mendenhall echoes with the footsteps of the last home-bound students heading off for Thanksgiving break, and Robin Stone swears she can feel the creepy, hundred-year old residence hall breathe a sigh of relief for its long-awaited solitude. Or perhaps it’s only gathering itself for the coming weekend.

As a massive storm dumps rain on the isolated campus, four other lonely students reveal themselves: Patrick, a handsome jock; Lisa, a manipulative tease; Cain, a brooding musician; and finally Martin, a scholarly eccentric. Each has forsaken a long weekend at home for their own secret reasons.

The five unlikely companions establish a tentative rapport, but they soon become aware of a sixth presence disturbing the ominous silence that pervades the building. Are they victims of a simple college prank taken way too far, or is the unusual energy evidence of something genuine – and intent on using the five students for its own terrifying ends? It’s only Thursday afternoon, and they have three long days and dark nights before the rest of the world returns to find out what’s become of them. But for now it’s just the darkness keeping company with five students nobody wants — and no one will miss.


Buy on Amazon US.


Via: Alexandra Sokoloff

    

Huntress Moon audiobook on sale, $3.99!

By noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra Sokoloff)

I said I had announcements to make – well, here’s the first. The audiobook of Huntress Moon is on sale this month for just $3.99 – an incredible discount from the regular price of $24.95.

On Amazon
On Audible

If you already own the Kindle edition, you can add audio for just $3.47.

Audiobooks of Blood Moon and Cold Moon will be coming in January from Thomas & Mercer, as part of the big launch of the series, but this is one I worked on myself through Amazon’s ACX program – that’s Audiobook Creation Exchange.

The Romantic Times Booklovers convention is one of the biggest conventions I go to all year, and I was surprised this year at how many panels and workshops there were with titles like “Audio is the New Black.” I met up with lots of author friends who have been doing a brisk business in audiobooks through the ACX program, and I thought I’d better blog a little about it here, because this is another potential income stream that authors need to be aware of these days, and ACX is a terrific production and distribution resource. Even if you know exactly zero about audiobook production (that would be me!), the ACX site has streamlined the process into a step-by-step system that anyone can follow to produce a quality audiobook.

ACX has thousands of professional and highly experienced actor-producers already signed up for the program. When you start an audio book, you choose a five-minute segment of your book for actors to audition with and upload that to the ACX site, and specify the qualities of voice that you’re looking for (comic, brooding, spooky, etc.) You choose whether you’ll pay the narrator a flat fee yourself, or do a royalty share deal. Then the project gets posted to ACX’s entire stable of actor-producers, and immediately auditions start coming in. You can also browse for actors yourself by searching vocal and tonal qualities and listening to samples. I was having flashbacks to my directing days as I listened to over three dozen auditions. (I know, yike – but you don’t have to listen to the whole audition to know if a narrator is in the running).

I actually found my terrific narrator, RC Bray, myself, by searching auditions on the site. I was blown away by Bob’s vocal range (just wait till you hear his reading of Epps!), and the way he’s able to convey theme and suspense in his reading. Bob loved Huntress and signed up to do the book immediately, and he’s such a professional that we had no problem working together by e mail. I could ask him to do something in a slightly different way and he’d instantly get it. I’m thrilled with the book and I hope you audiobook listeners will be, too.

I’ve really enjoyed working on the audio version of Huntress, though I have to warn it’s a lot of work. But ACX’s team was incredibly supportive and helpful – any time I hit a snag or didn’t understand a step in the process, I could contact the support team and get talked through it. I know other authors opt to make audio deals with great companies like Audible rather than taking on production themselves, but I love that I’m now going to make the lion’s share of profit from this book. I think maybe a mix of self-produced and company-produced books might be the way to go, just as a hybrid mix of indie published and traditionally published books can be the most profitable (and manageable!) route for authors these days.

I highly recommend that all authors check out the ACX site and read about how the process works. And of course I’d love to hear from others of you who have worked on your own audiobooks! What was your experience?

- Alex

————————————————————————————————-


FBI Special Agent Matthew Roarke is just closing in on a bust of a major criminal organization in San Francisco when he witnesses an undercover member of his team killed right in front of him on a busy street, an accident Roarke can’t believe is coincidental. His suspicions put him on the trail of a mysterious young woman who appears to have been present at each scene of a years-long string of “accidents” and murder, and who may well be that most rare of killers: a female serial.

Roarke’s hunt for her takes him across three states… while in a small coastal town, a young father and his five-year old son, both wounded from a recent divorce, encounter a lost and compelling young woman on the beach and strike up an unlikely friendship without realizing how deadly she may be.

As Roarke uncovers the shocking truth of her background, he realizes she is on a mission of her own, and must race to capture her before more blood is shed.

Via: Alexandra Sokoloff

    

Nanowrimo: Midpoint

By noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra Sokoloff)

by Alexandra Sokoloff

Okay, it’s a little past the midpoint of the month, so some, not all, of you will be coming up on the midpoint of your books. I am as ever skeptical that you can really get to the midpoint of a book in two weeks… but it’s still a good reason to talk about one of the most important elements of any book, film, TV show, or play.

THE MIDPOINT

All of the first half of the second act – that’s p. 30-60 in a script, p. 100 to p. 200 in a 400-page book, is leading up to the MIDPOINT. So the Midpoint occurs at about one hour into a movie, and at about page 200 in a book.

The Midpoint is also often called the MOMENT OF COMMITMENT or the POINT OF NO RETURN or NO TURNING BACK: the hero/ine commits irrevocably to the action.

The Midpoint is one of the most important scenes or sequences in any book or film: a major shift in the dynamics of the story. Something huge will be revealed; something goes disastrously wrong; someone close to the hero/ine dies, intensifying her or his commitment (What I call the “Now it’s personal” scene… imagine Clint Eastwood or Bruce Willis growling the line). Often the whole emotional dynamic between characters changes with what Hollywood calls, “Sex at Sixty” (that’s 60 minutes, not sixty years!).

Often a TICKING CLOCK is introduced at the Midpoint, as we will discuss further in the chapter on Creating Suspense (Chapter 31). A clock is a great way to speed up the action and increase the urgency of your story.

The Midpoint can also be a huge defeat, which requires a recalculation and NEW PLAN of attack. It’s a game-changer, and it locks the hero/ine even more inevitably into the story.

Let’s look at some examples.

As I’ve said before, a favorite PLAN and CENTRAL STORY ACTION of mine is in Brian DePalma’s The Untouchables.

Young FBI agent Eliot Ness is assigned to bring down mobster Al Capone. So far no one in law enforcement or government has been able to pin Capone to any of his heinous crimes; he keeps too much distance between himself and the actual killings, hijackings, extortions, etc. One of Ness’ Untouchable team, a FBI accountant, proposes that the team gather evidence and nail Capone on federal tax evasion. It’s not sexy, but the penalty is up to 25 years in prison. (As you might know, this PLAN is historically accurate: Al Capone was actually finally charged and imprisoned on the charge of tax evasion.)

So the PLAN and CENTRAL ACTION of the story becomes to locate one of Capone’s bookkeepers, take him into custody and force him to testify against Capone. Which they do. (With plenty of action sequences, of course.)

So as we approach the MIDPOINT, Ness’s team has the bookkeeper in custody, the trial is set, and Ness’s men are escorting the bookkeeper to court.

But the movie is only half over. So of course, as very often happens at the midpoint, the plan fails. In a suspenseful and emotional wrenching MIDPOINT CLIMAX, Ness’s accountant teammate, whom we have come to love, escorts the bookkeeper into the courthouse elevator to take him up to the courtroom. As the doors close, we see the police guard is actually one of Capone’s men.

Ness and his other teammate (a criminally hot Andy Garcia), realize that something’s wrong and race up (down?) the stairs to catch the elevator, but arrive to find a bloodbath – both accountants brutally murdered, and the word TOUCHABLE painted on the elevator in blood.

So the plan is totally foiled – they have no witness and no more case. It’s a great midpoint reversal, because we – and Ness himself – have no idea what the team is going to be able to do next (and also Ness is so emotionally devastated by the loss of his teammate that he begins to do reckless things.).
Not only does the murder of the two accountants (Capone’s and Ness’s) completely annihilate Ness’s PLAN), but the murder of Ness’s teammate makes the stakes deeply personal.

But a Midpoint doesn’t have to be a huge action scene. Another interesting and tonally very different Midpoint happens in Raiders of the Lost Ark. I’m sure some people would dispute me on this one (and people argue about the exact midpoint of movies all the time), but I would say the Midpoint is the scene that occurs exactly 60 minutes into the film, in which, having determined that the Nazis are digging in the wrong place in the archeological site, Indy goes down into that chamber with the pendant and a staff of the proper height, and uses the crystal in the pendant to pinpoint the exact location of the Ark.

This scene is quiet, and involves only one person, but it’s mystically powerful – note the use of light and the religious quality of the music… and Indy is decked out in robes almost like, well, Moses. Staff and all. Indy stands like God over the miniature of the temple city, and the beam of light comes through the crystal like light from heaven. It’s all a foreshadowing of the final climax, in which God intervenes in much the same way. Very effective, with lots of subliminal manipulation going on. And of course, at the end of the scene, Indy has the information he needs to retrieve the Ark. I would also point out that the Midpoint is often some kind of mirror image of the final climax; it’s an interesting device to use, and you may find yourself using it without even being aware of it.

(I will concede that in Raiders, you could call the Midpoint a two-parter: Indy’s discovery that Marion is still alive is a big twist. But personally I think that scene is part of the next sequence).

Another very different kind of midpoint occurs in Silence of the Lambs: the “Quid Pro Quo” scene between Clarice and Lecter, in which she bargains personal information to get Lecter’s insights into the case. Clarice is on a time clock, here, because Catherine Martin has been kidnapped and Clarice knows they have only three days before Buffalo Bill kills her. Clarice goes in at first to offer Lecter what she knows he desires most (because he has STATED his desire, clearly and early on) – a transfer to a Federal prison, away from Dr. Chilton and with a view. Clarice has a file with that offer from Senator Martin – she says – but in reality the offer is a total fake. We don’t know this at the time, but it has been cleverly PLANTED that it’s impossible to fool Lecter (Crawford sends Clarice in to the first interview without telling her what the real purpose is so that Lecter won’t be able to read her). But Clarice has learned and grown enough to fool Lecter – and there’s a great payoff when Lecter later acknowledges that fact.

The deal is not enough for Lecter, though – he demands that Clarice do exactly what her boss, Crawford, has warned her never to do: he wants her to swap personal information for clues – a classic deal with the devil game.

After Clarice confesses painful secrets, Lecter gives her the clue she’s been digging for – to search for Buffalo Bill through the sex reassignment clinics. And as is so often the case, there is a second climax within the midpoint – the film cuts to the killer in his basement, standing over the pit making a terrified Catherine put lotion on her skin – it’s a horrifying curtain and drives home the stakes. (Each climax in SOTL is a one-two punch – screen the movie again and see what I mean!).

I recently reread Harlan Coben’s The Woods, which employs a great technique to craft an explosive Midpoint: the book has an A story and a B story (well, really, with Coben it’s always about sixteen different threads of each plot intricately interwoven, but two main plots). In the B story, the protagonist is prosecuting two frat boys who raped a stripper at a frat party, and at the Midpoint is the main courtroom confrontation of that plot. The storyline continues, but now it becomes subordinate (and of course interconnected to) to the building A plot. This very emotional climaxing of the B plot at the midpoint is a terrifically effective structure technique that is great to have in your story structure toolbox.

In Sense and Sensibility, the Midpoint is the emotionally wrenching scene in which Lucy Steele reveals to Elinor that she has been secretly engaged to Edward Ferrars for five years. We are so committed to Edward and Elinor’s love that we are as devastated as Elinor is, and just as shocked that Edward would have lied to her. The Midpoint is even more wrenching because Elinor’s sister Marianne has also just been abandoned by her love interest. It’s a double-punch to the gut.

In Notting Hill, Julia Roberts has asked Hugh Grant up to her hotel suite for the first time, and Hugh walks in to find that Julia’s movie star boyfriend, Alec Baldwin, whom Hugh knew nothing about, is already there with her. We know that Hugh’s GHOST is that his ex-wife left him for a man who looked just like Harrison Ford (Alec is pretty close!), and to add to this blow, Alec mistakes Hugh for a room-service waiter and tips him, asking him to clean up while he takes Julia into the bedroom. Total emotional annihilation.

In a romance, the Midpoint is very often sexual or emotional. But the Midpoint can often be one of the most memorable visual SETPIECES of the story, just to further drive its importance home.

Note that the Midpoint is not necessarily just one scene; it can be a double punch as I just pointed out about Sense And Sensibility, and it can also be a progression of scenes and revelations that include a climactic scene, a complete change of location, a major revelation, a major reversal, a cliffhanger – all or any combination of the above.

One of the great Midpoints in theater and film is in My Fair Lady. Talk about a double punch! There is not one iconic song at the Midpoint curtain, but two: first “The Rain In Spain”, in which Eliza finally starts to speak with perfect diction, and Professor Higgins, the Colonel, and Eliza celebrate with wild and joyous dancing: a moment of triumph. Then when the housekeeper takes Eliza upstairs to bed, Higgins privately tells the Colonel that she’s ready: they can test her out in public. He intends to take her to an Embassy ball and pass her off as a lady to win his bet with the Colonel, which Eliza knows nothing about. Meanwhile upstairs, giddy with happiness, Eliza sings “I Could Have Danced All Night”, and we realize she has fallen in love with the Professor.

Not just two of the greatest songs of the musical theater in a row, but all of this SETUP, big HOPE, FEAR, and STAKES. Eliza is in love with Higgins and he’s just using her for a bet. There’s a huge TEST coming up at this ball, and we saw excitable Eliza fail miserably in her first public test at the Ascot races. There’s a penalty of prison for impersonating a lady, so there are not just the emotional stakes of a possible broken heart, but possible prison time.

Do you think anyone was not going to come back into the theater to see what happens at that ball?

Asking a big question like that is a great technique to use at the Midpoint.

A totally different, but equally famous example: in Jaws, the Midpoint climax is actually a whole sequence long: a highly suspenseful setpiece in which the city officials have refused to shut down the beaches, so Sheriff Brody is out there on the beach keeping watch (as if that’s going to prevent a shark attack!), the Coast Guard is patrolling the ocean – and, almost as if it’s aware of the whole plan, the shark swims into an unguarded harbor, where it attacks and swallows a man and for a horrifying moment we think that it has also killed Brody’s son (really it’s only frightened him into near-paralysis). It’s a huge climax and adrenaline rush, but it’s not over yet. Because now the Mayor writes the check to hire Quint to hunt down the shark, and since Brody’s family has been threatened (“Now it’s PERSONAL”), Brody decides to go out with Quint and Hooper on the boat – and there’s also a huge change in location as we see that little boat headed out to the open sea.

It really pays to start taking note of the Midpoints of films and books. If you find that your story is sagging in the middle, the first thing you should look at is your Midpoint scene.

I know this and I still sometimes forget it. When I turned in my poltergeist novel The Unseen, I knew that I was missing something in the middle, even though there was a very clear change in location and focus at the Midpoint: it’s the point at which my characters actually move into the supposedly haunted house and begin their experiment.

But there was still something missing in the scene right before, the close of the first half, and my editor had the same feeling, without really knowing what was needed, although it had something to do with the motivation of the heroine – the reason she would put herself in that kind of danger. So I looked at the scene before the characters moved in to the house, and lo and behold: what I was missing was “Sex at Sixty.” It’s my heroine’s desire for one of the other characters that makes her commit to the investigation, and I wasn’t making that desire line clear enough.

The Midpoint often LOCKS THE HERO/INE INTO A COURSE OF ACTION, or sometimes, physically locks the hero/ine into a location.

A great recent example is Inception: at the Midpoint, there’s a big action sequence, ending in a gun battle in which one of the allies, Saito (who hired the team to break into this dream) is badly wounded, and the team discovers that they can’t get out of the dream while Saito is unconscious. They’re stuck, perhaps forever, which forces them to devise a new PLAN.

There’s a not-so recent movie called Ghost Ship, about a salvage crew investigating a derelict ocean liner which has mysteriously appeared out in the middle of the Bering Straight, after being lost without a trace for forty years. At the Midpoint, the salvage crew’s own boat mysteriously catches on fire and sinks (taking one of the crew with it), forcing the entire crew to board the haunted ocean liner. They are physically locked into the situation, now, and their original PLAN – to tow the ocean liner back to shore – must change; they now have to repair the ocean liner and sail her out of the Strait. This development also solves the perennial problem of haunted house – or haunted ship – stories: “Why don’t the characters just leave?”

It’s a great Midpoint scene for all of the above reasons, plus it’s a great visual and action setpiece: the explosion of the salvage boat, the rescue (and loss) of crew members, and the suspense of who will get out of the water and on to the ocean liner alive.

So as you’re writing your fingers off, try taking a minute to contemplate what your Midpoint is, and how it changes the action of your book. If you can devise a great setpiece for your midpoint and also somehow destroy your hero’ine’s initial plan, you won’t have to worry about a sagging middle section, because you and your hero/ine will suddenly be scrambling to figure out a brand new and exiting plan of action to get their desire.

It really is the KEY to Act II.

- Alex


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All the information on this blog and more is in the writing workbooks. Screenwriting Tricks for Authors and Writing Love, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, II, are available for just $3.99 and $2.99.


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If you’re a romance writer, or have a strong love plot or subplot in your novel or script, then Writing Love: Screenwriting Tricks II is an expanded version of the first workbook with a special emphasis on love stories, and more full story breakdowns.

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Via: Alexandra Sokoloff

    

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