THE MIDDLE OF EVERYTHING
by Deborah Elliott-Upton
Creating the beginning of a new story is easy for me. The ending usually is too. It’s the nether regions of the middle that seem to play havoc with a writer. I remember taking a screenplay workshop from a woman who worked on a semi-famous movie that starred names everyone would recognize. (I’m keeping mum on all of it because some of the tales she told were risqué and I’m not so sure were all true, but they did make interesting talk over glasses of wine) She recounted various troubles between actors and directors, the critical importance of the opening scene on the big screen and of course, problems with the second act.
It’s always the second act that is the most difficult. I was wondering if that’s true in everything. Do more divorces occur in the years between newly-wed and the Silver or Gold Anniversaries? Are the teenage years rougher than terrible two’s or leaving for college angst? Maybe I could agree with this concept, except I have no problem with an entrée between soup and dessert.
I have decided that my second act in a story will forever be my main dish and I will treat it with respect. If its preparation is time consuming or requires additional work like marinating, it is only because of its importance to the entire meal.
The beginning of a story is like an appetizer. The idea is to make the reader hungry for more. Whet the appetite, but don’t completely fill your guest. Keep the appetizer lite, but sumptuous. The ending is coffee with an amazing dessert. You’ve just dined on a fabulous meal and even now, you are remembering the best parts, but in a slower, more relaxed mood.
The middle must taste better than anyone expected. This is where the twists and turns fill the reader with flavor. Again, not too much, not too little.
New writers are often so in love with writing, they want to share every thought on paper. They tend to pile on too much in the opening, leaving the middle to flounder, fighting for attention. The reader is not someone who had been stranded on a deserted island, eager to toss anything into his mouth and be satisfied. Instead, he is a bit of a snob with a sophisticated palate. He’s eaten really good food and if he’s hungry, why would he settle for less when quality is the same price?
I have heard of some producers opening the script to the middle and begin reading. Kind of scary, isn’t it? I can hear the writers screaming, “No! They don’t even know why he’d do that!” Exactly. They don’t, but if it isn’t good enough to arouse his wanting to know why the hero did that, the writer missed the point anyway.
I believe I could open a Sherlock Holmes adventure or anything by Charles Dickens or Stephen King and become interested enough to read the entire story. This is a personal challenge: go to any bookstore, library or your own collection and open a story you haven’t previously read and begin reading in the middle. Read no more than a minute tops. Are you interested in what you just read enough to continue either forward or from the beginning? I think this is where we separate the good writers from the great ones. Let me know your results. I promise not to skip to the middle to see your reactions.