Yes, you read the title correctly. This pantser sometimes has to plot. Never in excruciating detail, but enough to know (sort of) where my story is headed. When 2015 began with overlapping deadlines for two different publishers—NO LIMITS, right???—I knew I’d have to get my act together if I had any hopes of completing these manuscripts on time.
So, with first-round edits on one book behind me, and while awaiting edits on another, when mid-February rolled around, I was ready to begin prep work on the next book in the pipeline. Just in time for Speedbo—how convenient!
Since this will be book 2 of a three-book series, I already knew a lot about my heroine. I hadn’t “met” the hero yet, except as he revealed himself in my two-paragraph proposal summary a LONG time ago, so he’ll take some fleshing out. That will be the fun part.
The not-so-fun part is taking that two-paragraph summary and turning it into a real plot with clear turning points, climax, and conclusion. I (sort of) know how the story will begin, and I (sort of) know how things will end up. But until I start writing, the middle is usually a huge, cavernous void, where anything can happen and discovery is the joy of the journey.
Maybe you noticed the oxymoron in the above paragraph: “not-so-fun” contrasted with “joy of the journey.” Yes, it’s both. And it takes work.
But I digress. Today I want to talk about a method of plotting that has proven to be an eye-opener for me. You can read all about it in James Scott Bell’s book Write Your Novel From the Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone in Between.
(Naturally, when I saw the word “Pantsers” in the title, I was instantly intrigued.)
Why does this method work? According to Jim Bell, the midpoint of your book is crucial—“the moment that tells us what the novel or movie is really all about.”* He calls it the “look in the mirror moment,” when the central character takes a hard look at where he’s come from and considers how he wants to change.
In very simplistic terms, all of the first half of the book leads up to this “mirror moment”; all of the second half reveals the character’s transformation. Back to plotting, once you determine your character’s “mirror moment,” discovering backstory becomes organic, and the transformation the character needs in order to achieve that all-important HEA begins to take shape.
Bell calls these three aspects The Golden Triangle: Mirror Moment at the top, Pre-story Psychology at the bottom left, and Transformation at the bottom right.
Bell illustrates the “mirror moment” concept using several examples from books and movies, so after reading his book, I had to try it for myself. I opened my novel Every Tear a Memory (Abingdon Press, October 2014) to approximately the middle of the book, and there it was, Joanna Trapp’s “mirror moment” that I hadn’t even realized I’d written:
[Jack, Joanna’s brother] lifted one shoulder in a helpless gesture before turning away, hands rammed into his pockets. “Why do I even try?”
One hand on the banister, Joanna whipped her head around. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means I feel like I hardly know you. It’s like you’re here, but not really. When you first came home, I could tell you were itching to return to France, and every day when I came home from work, I half expected to find your suitcases packed and train tickets on the table.”
“I would never just leave, Jack. I know what my responsibilities are.”
He slanted her a doubtful glance. “Is that all Lily and I are to you—responsibilities?”
Her brother’s accusation made her flinch. Perhaps because it’s too close to the truth? “I admit I did resent being called home. But not because of you or Lily. This just didn’t feel like my life anymore. I left . . . so much . . .” Her throat closed, and she lowered her gaze to the floor.
“I get it. Your ‘real’ life is back in France.” Jack strode a few paces away. “If you want to return so badly, then do it. Don’t let Lily and me keep you here.”
“You’re not listening to me.” Following him across the foyer, Joanna came up beside him and touched his arm. “I’ve come to realize this is where I’m meant to be. It’s where I want to be.”
Jack swiveled to face her, his steely gaze sharp as a razor. “Then quit holding out on us.”
This is the point in the story when Joanna determines in her own mind that, no matter how difficult things get or how badly she longs to escape, she won’t desert her brother and sister again. Everything from the beginning of the story up to now showed Joanna’s resistance to coming home to the life she left behind. Everything from here to the end revolves around her coming to terms with her life and finding hope again as she grows into the woman she is meant to be.
So now I’m in the process of figuring out where the characters in my current work-in-progress are headed. This time, I’ll be making a conscious effort to discover the midpoint—the “mirror moment” for my heroine, since I expect she will have the most at stake, and possibly a secondary “mirror moment” for the hero.
Here’s an experiment for you. Open up the story you’re working on (better yet, a completed draft), or look at a novel you’ve recently read. Turn to the middle of the story and see if you can find a “mirror moment” for the central character. What does it reveal about the character’s growth through the story so far? What does it suggest about the character’s future?
I hope you’ll read Jim Bell’s book for yourself. It’s a short book but power-packed with explanations and examples that can change the way both plotters and pantsers approach their stories. In fact, I’ll give away the Kindle version to three lucky commenters! Just include ENTER ME somewhere in your comment, and I’ll drop your name in the doggy dish.
*Bell, James Scott (2014-02-23). Write Your Novel From The Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone in Between (Kindle Location 71). Compendium Press. Kindle Edition.
Though Myra Johnson’s roots go deep into Texas soil, she now enjoys living amidst the scenic beauty of the Carolinas, but she does miss real Texas beef barbecue! Empty-nesters, Myra and her husband share their home with two pampered rescue dogs. Myra's awards include the 2005 RWA Golden Heart and two ACFW Carol Award finals. When the Clouds Roll By, book 1 of the historical romance series “Till We Meet Again” (Abingdon Press), won the historical fiction category of the 2014 Christian Retailer’s Best Award. Book 2, Whisper Goodbye, and book 3, Every Tear a Memory, both received 4½-star reviews from Romantic Times. Follow Myra on Twitter at @MyraJohnson and @TheGrammarQueen, and on her Facebook author page.