Shape the Middle of Your Story to Maintain Momentum and Tension

It’s often easy for screenwriters to create the beginning and end of their story. What’s often the hardest part is creating the middle that connects the beginning and ending together. The simplest way to structure a story middle is to divide your overall story into four parts where each part or Act represents a distinct story.

What drives your story from beginning to end is the hero’s pursuit of a Symbol of Hope. This Symbol of Hope is something that can give the hero what he or she wants while also threatening what the villain wants. Because the hero needs the Symbol of Hope while the villain needs to destroy it, this puts the hero and villain into constant conflict until one of them finally achieves their goal.

In a 120 minute movie, divide it into four parts or Acts of 30 minutes each. Now the structure of each Act looks like this:

  • Act I – The villain inadvertently sends a Symbol of Hope into the hero’s life and the hero pursues this Symbol of Hope into a new world.
  • Act IIa — Once in a new world, the hero follows the Symbol of Hope until getting what they want, which will turn out to be a False Victory.
  • Act IIb – Now the hero must protect the Symbol of Hope against the villain, who threatens to destroy it.
  • Act III – The hero and villain must fight to see who can get the Symbol of Hope once and for all.

By introducing a Symbol of Hope in Act I, the story naturally flows into Act IIa where the hero achieves a False Victory. Such a False Victory appears to be what the hero wants, but still leaves the hero vulnerable to the villain.

In “WALL-E,” this Symbol of Hope is a plant that WALL-E finds. He gives it to Eve, the robot he hopes to fall in love with, and she promptly and mysteriously shuts down. Then the villain returns to retrieve Eve, which forces WALL-E to chase after Eve and the plant inside of her.

In Act IIa, WALL-E still chases after Eve and the plant, and he finally gets his False Victory, which is to reunite with Eve once more. The catch is that Eve doesn’t want to be with him and wants to send him back home to Earth where WALL-E belongs.

In Act IIb, WALL-E and Eve learn the importance of the plant in determining the future of the human race. Now the villain tries to destroy the plant along with Eve and WALL-E.

Finally in Act III, the villain tries to capture and destroy the plant once and for all, while WALL-E priest save the plant.

So the main reason why the middle can be the hardest part of the story to write is because the writer fails to create a Symbol of Hope that links the beginning, middle, and end together. When you create this link, the middle magically becomes easier to write.

The middle needs to increase the following:

  • Increased knowledge of what’s going on, typically the villain’s goal.
  • Increased understanding of the character’s actions and motivation (for the audience).
  • Increased awareness of the stakes at risk.

By increasing the stakes of the story, clarifying the villain’s goals, and giving us a greater understanding of the character’s motivation, the middle provides a vital role in keeping the story momentum moving forward. Create a Symbol of Hope goal from start to finish, and increase knowledge of the story events, the character motivations, and the stakes at risk, and your middle should never feel flabby or disjointed ever again.

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