I don’t know about you, but writing the middle of a story has always been the hardest part for me. There’s just SO MUCH of it! It can be tough filling the gap between the beginning and the end with enough material to make a full-length book. If anyone comes up with some handy hacks, let me know!
I think one of the best things to keep in mind when you tackle the bulk of your story is that it’s all about escalation. Small things happen, then bigger things, then the biggest, then a mind-blowing finale.
Again, let’s use Harry Potter as an example. Mez pointed out to me that despite my many uses of it as an example, I’m not a huge Harry Potter fan. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy it, but I can’t quote it like I can Pride and Prejudice. I just figure it makes a good example because most people know the story.
Now, Harry Potter is long. Like crazy long. Seven books, totaling over a million words long! But for now, let’s focus on the beginning of the first book for a rather silly but fun example of escalation: getting the Hogwarts letter to Harry.
J.K. Rowling could have just let Harry read the first letter and find out he’s a wizard that way. Instead, she turns it into a fascinating game of tug-of-war between Hogwarts and Uncle Vernon. Let’s make a chart!!
Hogwarts vs. Uncle Vernon
Let the match begin!
|Hogwarts sends one letter through mail slot||Uncle Vernon intercepts it and burns it|
|Hogwarts sends another letter||Uncle Vernon gets it again and decides to sleep in front of the mail slot|
|Hogwarts sends 3 letters||Uncle Vernon nails shut the mail slot|
|12 letters arrive pushed under the door and through a window||Uncle Vernon boards up every crack he can find|
|24 letters arrive…in eggs!||Uncle Vernon complains to post office and waits anxiously for Sunday—no post!|
|Dozens of letters arrive via the fireplace||Uncle Vernon packs up the family, drives erratically for hours, before finally stopping at a random hotel|
|A hundred letters arrive at the front desk||Uncle Vernon rents a shack on a island and buys a gun|
|Hogwarts sends Hagrid to hand deliver a letter||Uncle Vernon forced to give in|
And BOOM! Hogwarts wins!! Cheers all around!
Anyway, this fun little episode is a great example of escalation in a story. Hogwarts wants Harry to get the letter, Uncle Vernon doesn’t want him to have it. There’s the conflict, and as one side tugs, the other side tugs harder, and then the other side tugs harder still.
Isn’t that a lot more fun than Harry just getting the first letter? Watching Uncle Vernon go to extremes is hilariously entertaining.
The entire Harry Potter series is also a great example of escalation.
Voldemort wants to rule the world. Harry isn’t about to let that happen. Thus, conflict!
Voldemort starts out weak and dependent on others, while Harry is an eleven-year-old thrust into a world he never even knew existed.
Things happen, and they both get stronger. Their battles become fiercer with higher stakes.
Then someone dies. Traitors emerge. Harry and Voldemort both become even stronger.
More people die and the battle is no longer just between Harry and Voldemort, but affecting the entire wizard world.
Until finally, Voldemort is at full power and Harry is now a seventeen-year-old, full-fledged wizard. Instead of a battle of wills (like the end of the first book), there is a huge magical battle between two wizard armies and the entire world is at stake.
Talk about escalation.
Of course, there are lots of subplots going on as well: Quidditch matches, the competition between the houses, Harry falling in and out of love, Snape’s antagonism, etc. All of this adds length to the novels, as well as more tension and escalation. The reader isn’t just worrying about Voldemort, but whether Harry is going to do well in his Quidditch matches, how his exams are going, how Snape is going to mess with him, and whether he’s ever going to get the girl! It’s a wonder we aren’t all nervous wrecks by the end,
So think about how escalation applies to your own story! How can you raise the stakes to keep the tension up and your reader on the edge of her seat? And also think how you can turn the simple act of delivering a letter into several pages worth of fun and tension. Don’t just hand your hero stuff. If he needs information, make him work for it! Judy in Zooptopia could have just run a license plate through the police system and had it in seconds. Easy. Instead, she had to wade through a DMV full of sloths, wasting hours as her deadline ticks closer. Much more fun. So don’t make things easy for your hero. They can rest when the story it over.
Good luck and keep writing!