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Scenes Are Your Stepping Stones – Part III: The Middles

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We’ve dissected the scene. We’ve talked about scene launches. Now let’s get to the heart of the scenes—The Middles.

Think of the middle “as a realm of possibility between the scene opening and its ending, where major drama and conflict … unfold.” (1)

However, beware of the seductive power of the middle that will tempt you into narrative by-roads. Those “pretty flower beds of words” that make the reader want to nod off. Don’t let them … ever! If you’ve grabbed the attention of your readers with a dynamic scene launch, you now must hook them with the action/drama/conflict of the middle to keep them in the scene.

Up the AnteComplications:

I’m going to assume that we’re all nice human beings and wouldn’t hurt a fly intentionally, and that’s noble of us. But in fiction this becomes a liability. We have to complicate our characters’ lives in a way that the reader can see it vividly. This is the heart of the scene—the middle.

When you plan this scene, decide what your MC stands to lose or gain from the quest. Is it pride? Is it a home? Is it the great love? “When you up the ante you build anticipation, significance and suspense that drive the narrative forward and bring the reader along for the ride.” (2)

Whatever the cost, this journey will be both terrible and wonderful. “Terrible because you must hurt your characters—you must take beloved people and possessions away from them, withhold desires, and sometimes even kill them for the sake of drama or tension.” (3)

At the same time this is wonderful because your readers become emotionally tangled up in your characters and their dilemmas. You want this!

How to Up the Ante:

  • The Withhold:
    • Emotional Withholding—love, approval, support, or whatever is needed emotionally for the MC to survive his/her ordeal—this type of withholding is present in both romance genre and psychological drama. There is nothing more devastating than this.  
    • Information Withholding—the most common type—the location of a kidnapped victim; stolen treasure, a Jew in hiding from the Nazis. Withholding information sets up a power struggle between the one holding and the one seeking. Every scene needs plot information withheld to keep the reader intrigued.  
    • Object Withholding—playing keep-away with your MC—the object of desire is just within reach when it’s whisked away again. Think about a brawl of life or death when the object is the gun that will kill or save the hero’s life is the object. “The longer you withhold the object from the person or people who want it, especially during the middle of the scene, the more tension you can build.” (4)


  • The Element of Danger
    • Put your MC’s life in danger—best and most immediate way to up the ante! How your MC reacts to this danger shows his/her true nature.  
    • Give your MC emotional danger—a confrontation with a psychotic; blackmail; mental abuse. Emotional danger in your characters’ lives builds empathy in the reader and dramatic tension.


  • The Unexpected Revelation
    • What: MC learns he’s adopted; MC learns her husband is cheating on her with her best friend; MC discovers who framed for a crime he didn’t commit.
    • How: letters found in a drawer; another character’s mouth; an overheard conversation.
    • Why: revelations are often transformative pieces of plot information that drive narrative forward and offer potential for drama. But they can also provide relief and comfort, i.e., a returned fortune, a true identity, a chance at vindication where there was none before —as in proof of innocence.

Remember, without problems to solve, hurdles to clear, or crises to overcome, your MC cannot and will not grow and growth is a must. Without change—for good or bad—your plot stalls, your MC and your reader with it.


Next Month: Stepping Stones – Part IV: The Scene Ending.


1 Rosenfeld, Jordan E. Make a Scene. Writer’s Digest Books: Cincinnati, OH, 2008, pg. 21.

2 Ibid., pg. 22.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid., pg. 26.

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Follow Mary Lois Sanders:

Mary Lois Sanders holds a Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) in Church Music and Vocal Performance. A former teacher, minister of music, and author of academic articles, she entered the secular markets with nonfiction articles in such periodicals as Cobblestone and Calliopes and short stories in Boy’s Life and several anthologies. A winner of several RPLAs, she has published a historical novel and a middle-grade novel and co-written four chapter books. She is a member of SCBWI and Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) as well as owner of Court Jester Publications and publisher/managing editor of Creative Writer’s Notebook, a monthly newsletter for writers.

4 Responses

  1. David Edmonds
    | Reply

    Excellent piece. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Carol Baldwin
    | Reply

    Great post. Will keep it open and refer to it while writing today!

  3. Sheri Levy
    | Reply

    Great post. Thanks for the reminders. Throw stones at your characters!!

  4. Tricia Pimental
    | Reply

    I love that you’ve made your post so accessible to save as a pdf for future reference. A couple of clicks and I’ve got it forever. Thanks, ML!

Leave a Reply to Tricia Pimental Cancel reply