Plotting the novel's beginning is all about introducing the central character living in their ordinary world, giving them a goal, then making them act on it.
You have now reached the exciting part of the story, the part where the action kicks in for real. Your job as a writer is to now keep hold of the audience's attention.
Once again, I have simplified the process of plotting the middle section of a novel by breaking it down into three steps. Before looking at these steps in detail, a few general points...
In the article on Plot Structure, I talked about fiction having three parts (or three "acts"). The first part is the beginning, when the character decides to act. The middle phase of a novel then deals with the action itself.
It is useful to think of Act II as the start of the character's "journey" (whether they are making a physical journey or not).
For the whole of the first act, they remain at "home" - or in a world which is familiar to them. At the start of the novel's second act (the middle), they set out on their journey and enter a world which is NOT familiar and NOT safe.
Once in this strange new world, the character doesn't immediately set out to achieve their ultimate goal. Instead, they go through a process of...
The journey isn't simple by any means. It is frequently a case of one step forward and two steps back. But little by little, despite all the setbacks, they will gradually edge closer to the object of their quest.
That's great, I can hear you say, but it doesn't tell me how to go about plotting the middle of a novel in a practical, step-by-step way.
No, it doesn't. But the following steps should hopefully make things clearer. Remember, we have already dealt with the three steps in the novel's beginning. They were...
Now for the novel's middle...
Okay, I guess I'd better start by explaining just what the heck a "mini plot" is...
Most things that we do in life, we do by breaking down into smaller steps. Even something simple like buying the morning paper involves...
And it is exactly the same thing with a character in a novel. The way they achieve their overall goal (the one they came up with during the novel's opening) is to break it down into a series of mini goals.
But a mini "goal" is only one element of an entire mini "plot". In all, there are five of them...
Actually, there are only four elements to a mini plot, because the fifth step - deciding on a new goal - is also the first step of the next mini plot. That's what makes them so great for plotting the novel's middle - they simply snap together like building blocks.
Back to Step 4 of the Overall Plot: the first "mini plot"...
What you have to do here is give your central character their first mini goal - or the first small thing they must achieve to take them one step closer to achieving their overall, novel-length goal.
So in a crime novel, for example, the detective's first mini-goal will be to find clues at the scene of the murder. The remainder of this first mini plot then plays out in sequence...
First, she encounters conflict. Let's give her a fear of blood, which makes it difficult to do her job. Oh, and there's a storm rumbling ever closer, threatening to wash the evidence clean away.
Next, the scene reaches a resolution: Yes, the detective manages to find plenty of clues, including the murder weapon. But it turns out to be her gun and she is arrested.
Next, she reacts emotionally to what has just happens (she spends a very bleak night alone in a cold cell).
But sooner rather than later, she comes up with a new plan, a new mini goal...
She remembers some of the other clues she found at the crime scene - clues, she now realizes, which point towards her having been framed. Her next goal, with the help of her sidekick, is to prove her innocence.
And so, armed with a new mini goal, the character is ready for the next mini plot.
If you are working out your own novel in your mind as you read this, you will now have the novel's first major mini plot under your belt.
The way to prevent a sagging middle, and keep the readers on the edge of their seats, is simply to string together a whole series of such mini plots.
Just remember the importance of cause and effect that I talked about in the article defining plot.
Each mini plot should be the cause of the next one and an effect of the preceding one. If not, your novel will be "episodic" in nature.
If you have fully grasped the notion of a novel's middle section comprising a whole string of mini plots, you are probably wondering when the sequence comes to an end.
And the answer is this: the final mini plot is the one in which the character's mini goal is to finally achieve their overall, novel-length goal.
Needless to say, they don't succeed!
Plot development is about being mean to your central character. And this is the place to kick them harder than ever.
Despite all the setbacks they have suffered along the way, your central character now believes they are on the very cusp of victory, or of seizing the prize they have had their eyes on all this time.
But they are wrong.
Something terrible happens and they hit rock bottom. Their hopes of achieving their overall goal (the one they came up with right at the start of the novel) seem as good as dead.
The next step is to begin to turn things around for them at last, and that happens when you Plot the Novel's Ending...