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Martha Alderson

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Plot Tricks for the Middle by Martha Alderson Blockbuster Plots
by Martha Alderson   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Posted: Monday, February 12, 2007

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Martha Alderson

Simple Tips from Martha Alderson
When to Plot by Martha Alderson
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For most writers, the Middle of a writing project poses the most
difficulty. Plotters, writers who create a plot plan or scaffolding
before writing the words are not immune to the quagmire of the
Middle. Nor are writers who write the words first and give the plot
test only after they reach the end. Neither type is guaranteed a
smooth or easy passage through the Middle.

2 Plot Tricks for the Middle
By: Martha Alderson

For most writers, the Middle of a writing project poses the most
difficulty. Plotters, writers who create a plot plan or scaffolding
before writing the words are not immune to the quagmire of the
Middle. Nor are writers who write the words first and give the plot
test only after they reach the end. Neither type is guaranteed a
smooth or easy passage through the Middle.

The Problem
Characters, setting, set-up, premise, and action move from the
superficial, introductory mode of the Beginning to the gritty,
challenging world of the Middle, the heart of the story world itself.

In the middle, masks fall away and the characters reveal themselves
for who they truly are, warts, flaws, fears, prejudices, and all. At
this point in the relationship, just like in life, the story tends to
get messy. Fights can ensue. Feelings can get hurt. Because of that,
writers often back away, afraid of what the characters will reveal
about themselves, doubting their ability to manage the dark side of
the characters.

When things get messy, writers often long for the good old days at
the Beginning of the relationship when things were smooth and happy,
and superficial. Don't give into the urge to go back and start over
again. The truth of the relationship and the characters emerge in the

Plot Tips and Tricks
1) Use of Antagonists
Writers who make friends with as many antagonists as they can create
seem to slog their way through the Middle without as much mishap as
those who have not fostered such relationships.

The six basic antagonists are: other people, nature, God, machines,
society and the characters themselves.

If you are trying to deepen your skill at showing character
development, of the six antagonists, the inner workings of the
characters themselves offer the richest form of support. In terms of
plot, three basic character traits have the potential to create
scenes with the most conflict, tension and suspense or curiosity: the
character's flaw, fear, and hatred.

For example, in the Beginning of To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee
introduces Scout, the protagonist, with the flaw, among others, of
being insensitive to other people's feelings. In the Middle, Lee
turns the tables on Scout. Now, rather than continue to see all the
ways Scout demonstrates her insensitivity to others, the reader sees
how Scout suffers the effects of others' insensitivity, from her
cousin acts of cruelty towards her to how a white townsperson married
to a black woman deals with the insensitivity of the community around

Scout's flaw is not the only antagonist that creates more conflict,
tension and suspense in very scene. The Middle is fraught with
antagonists of every sort. Her father serves as an antagonist when he
asks Scout to control her temper and her fists. Because of scenes in
the Beginning showing Scout's impulsive fits of anger, the reader
knows as well as Scout and her father just how hard it will be for
the eight-year-old to control these two shadow aspects of herself.

Lee employs other antagonists in the Middle: an old mad dog down
yonder; Mrs. Dubose, a neighbor who symbolizes the collective
consciousness of the town folk or society at large; Aunt Alexandra;
grown men of the community; etc.

2) Unusual world
The Plot Planner mimics the universal story form with a line that
moves steadily upward to denote the necessity of giving each scene
more significance to the character and more conflict, tension and
suspense in the dramatic action than the scene that came before it.

A trick that can help you over the roughest territory of all: the
middle of the Middle is to create an unusual world. So long as you
keep a measure of conflict, tension and suspense alive, the actual
dramatic action can flatten out a bit in the middle of the Middle.
Here, the writer can take time to deepen the readers' appreciation of
an unusual job, setting, lifestyle, custom, ritual, sport, belief or
whatever your imagination dreams up.

This world, whether real or imagined, comes alive with authentic
details most relevant to the unusual world, specific details the
average reader does not yet know or appreciate.

For example, in the Middle of Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden
shows the world of the geisha as the protagonist herself learns about
the expectations, dance steps, joke making, dress and hair.

In the Middle of Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak shows us
through six pages of illustrations the unusual world of wild things
making rumpus.

In the Middle of My Half of the Sky, Jana McBurney Lin shows the
everyday life of a tea seller in China.

The next time you find yourself bogged down in the Middle, don't
resort to going back and starting again. You will only end up finding
yourself in a seemingly never-ending cycle. Instead, make a list of
all the antagonists you can think of that are relevant to the overall
plot or thematic significance. Add the development of an unusual
world, and see if you don't find yourself jumping from one scene to
the next, and bypassing the quicksand of the Middle all together.

Martha Alderson, M.A. is an international plot and story consultant
for writers. As the author of BLOCKBUSTER PLOTS Pure & Simple, she
created a unique line of plot tools for writers. She teaches plot
workshops privately, through University of Santa Cruz, Learning Annex
and writing conferences. Visit her website at: and her blog at: http:// Sign up for her free Plot Tips eZine at

Web Site: Blockbuster Plots

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