Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Fiona Harper on writing: Icebergs and honeymoons

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Fiona Harper continues her series on Plot Structure & Character Arc. This month she’s looking more closely at that all-important midpoint and finding out what comes next! 

There were some interesting comments after last month's post, so I wanted to talk a little bit more about the mid-point before I continue with the second half of the plot structure.

Somewhere near the middle of the story, there is often an internal shift for the character, a change in consciousness. Before this they have been engaging in some form of self-defeating behaviour (their flaw). However, they may not have been aware that this behaviour was one of the obstacles stopping them from attaining their goal. But then they get that flash of inspiration - the moment of grace - and they begin to understand that they are part of their own problem (see the previous post for more on this). If your story is going to have a happy ending, they will respond to that knowledge and start to consciously work to solve this problem. If the story has a tragic ending, they will probably not respond to that flash of insight. In fact, their flaw may well escalate after this point, causing their own downfall.

While we write romance, and our hero and heroine will get their happy-ever-after, its handy to know about the tragic side of the equation in relation to other characters. If you have a villain, he or she may well follow this more tragic pattern. It can also be utilised to show where your protagonist could  have gone if they hadn’t chosen the right path.

mistletoe smallestFor example, the book I’ve just finished has a heroine who was a WAG (wife of a famous man), but she divorces him when she finds out he’s cheating on her. However, when her friend runs into a similar situation later in the book, she does not have the courage to do what my heroine has done and she goes back to her husband. This comes at a point in the book when I wanted to highlight the emotional growth of my heroine, and using another character to make the ‘wrong’ choice was much more effective than beating readers over the head with it in lengthy internal monologues.

As well as this internal change, there will often be a shift in the protagonist's outward circumstances too (the plot). Often the plot and character development at this point are linked, but this is not always the case: Rose's decision to get off Titanic with Jack has no bearing on whether the ship hits the iceberg or not. (Thank goodness, that's a bit too much guilt to deal with, don't you think?)

But sometimes a shift in the character causes shift in plot – e.g. Strictly BallroomAt the mid-point Scott sees the girl who’s supposed to be his new partner do a show dance at a competition. He’s been saying that he wants to dance his steps his way, and now he has a choice – choose Tina Sparkle and stick to the ballroom code, or dance with Fran and follow his heart. I’ve inserted a YouTube link – just watch Scott’s face as he watches Tina then turns to Fran; you can see that moment of realisation happen!

From this moment on he pursues his goal of dancing his own steps (and Fran) in a more committed way. 

But it can also happen the other way round! Sometimes a turning point in the plot can force a character to evaluate their behaviour. A good example is Sweet Home Alabama. Melanie, who has returned to her home town after a long absence, wants to divorce the man she married as a teenager so she can marry someone else. Frustrated that her ex, Jake, is resisting, she gets drunk and proceeds to be really snobby and insult all her old friends. After her shocking behaviour she wakes to find the signed divorce papers on her pillow. This gives her the wake-up call she needs and she starts to treat her old friends and old life with more respect.

After this mid-point realisation or challenge, characters often have what Dara Marks calls a period of grace or what Christopher Vogler refers to as the reward. In other words, tension has been escalating towards a significant turning point and there is often a lull, a time to regroup, a ‘honeymoon’ period when things go right for the protagonist before the stakes and conflict are increased once again.

In a romance, since the mid-point if often the place for a ‘first’ in the relationship – first kiss, first declaration of love, first time they make love – the relationship often flourishes for a while after this important moment, BUT our protagonists have not conquered their fears or completed their character arcs yet. There are still some big issues to resolve and some important goals to achieve, making this period of grace a temporary reprieve.

We’ll talk about the intensifying conflict that leads to the big black moment next time...

Fiona's next book Always the Best Man is now available in America on eHarlequin and will be in shops and on Amazon in August

The best man...for the bridesmaid?  Standing at the altar, Damien is breathless as the woman he loves walks toward him-to marry another man. Knowing bridesmaid Zoe's watching him makes it harder still. The opposite of the bride, Zoe's too loud, too vibrant, too...everything!
Zoe can't resist provoking him-just once, she'd like to see "Mr. Perfect" lose his cool. She can tell there are fireworks smouldering behind those pale blue eyes. But before the wedding night is over, their unexpected connection will threaten to undermine everything they both believe about themselves and each other.... 


  1. Still having new book cover love for your Christmas story! Love Sweet Home Alabama as an example, it's perfect!

  2. Excellent post, Fiona, thank you. It really clarifies what happens (or should happen) in the middle section of a book, and I think it might help sort out that "saggy middle" problem that sometimes occurs!

  3. Thanks, Scarlet and Sarah! I must admit that I am very slightly obsessed with the middle point of a story. (Does it show? lol)