|(Photo by Chris J. Fries - 2012: Sunset Headstones)|
(This is post #7 in a ten-part quest to define "a good story" -- the kickoff of this quest is HERE)
To recap our quest so far: I've defined the three large elements that I believe make up a good story: Character, Plot, and Voice. I've also touched on a story's beginning (the introduction of the character and the onset of the plot), discussed the importance of conflict (tests and strengthens the character and forms the whole core of the plot), and mentioned setting (illustrates where the plot takes place, and acts as a component that establishes and frames the character).
But now, frankly, I'm not sure I can go on with the quest.
I can't think of what direction to go next. I've run out of ideas, hit a brick wall, and everything I try seems to be falling short. Nothing is working, and everything seems to oppose me. At this point, it looks like the quest may have to be called off, and that I may be doomed to fail.
Know where I'm at?
Every good story needs one.
We've had a beginning, and at some point, we'll (hopefully) have an ending, but there has to be a separation between the two. There has to be the point where the conflict and tension seem insurmountable. For now, we're there -- stuck at the lowest point.
The darkest hour. Where things look their gravest.
The point in the story where a character hits rock bottom, and where the reader thinks the story might -- just maybe -- end in disaster for the character with the failure of all he was trying to obtain.
Of course, some stories do end this way. But then, with these dark stories, their middle is usually the point at which it looks like the character will succeed, where they're riding high, and everything seems to be going their way. With these tragic anti-stories, the middle of the plot is many times essentially just the mirror image of the traditional story's low-point middle.
The length of a story's middle-section varies, but it's typically the bulk of the story. Using the well-known three-act structure, the beginning takes about 1/4 of the story, the ending takes another 1/4, and the middle takes 1/2 -- as much as the beginning and ending combined. In a novel-length story, the middle can have a whole series of mini-crises and resolutions, all continuing to build tension and drama, and raising the stakes, until -- at the peak (or pit depending on how you picture the story arc), the whole plot looks like it might end with disaster.
But it (usually) doesn't. Somehow, through some last tiny bit of inner strength, the main character breaks through the wall, overcomes the crisis, or realizes the key piece of information that crystallizes everything, and gains new energy to charge on to the final climax.
But the story's not over -- not by a long shot. Just because the main character has climbed out of the pit of despair doesn't mean he's done with his quest. The final conflict of the plot still needs to be faced, but now, with the character having made it through the challenges of the middle, the ending been unleashed and the story is racing towards it at full speed.
And we'll talk about it more in the next installment of this quest...