Plot Clinic: the Middle Third

Note: I’m going to do some plotting for BBC in this post- spoilers for this book and future possible sequels under the cut. If you’re reading along with the serial and would prefer not to be spoiled, better skip this post.

Often when writing and outlining it’s easy to see how the story should begin, and easy to see how the story should end, but quite difficult to see how it should proceed in the middle. The middle third of a book is generally prone to what I call “story collapse”, where there’s just not enough going on to prop up the narrative arc and everything turns to unpleasant mush.

Of course, with “Bell, Book and Candle” I don’t even know where the story will end…which gives me even less of an idea of what to do in the middle, and I’ve just arrived (with Friday’s post) at the end of my outline. :/

So, what to do?

What else could go wrong?

Below is some excellent advice from the peerless Tami, which she shared with me when I was going through plot collapse with Princess’s third act:

Write down a quick synopsis of your main plot and any side plots (including romances) you know you’re keeping.

Ask yourself “What else could happen?” or “What else could go wrong?”
Alternately, list out your characters very very briefly and ask yourself “what are they contributing to make the plot WORSE or more uncomfortable or screw things up? What are they contributing to solve the problem?” and if you have someone not doing enough to screw things up, go back to plan A and “What else could happen?”
Okay. So let’s give this a shot with BBC, and see where it takes us.

Plot threads:

-Lizzie’s investigation of the disappearing ghosts
-Emily’s possession
-Lizzie’s changing abilities [semi-teased with the poltergeist sequence, but needs to be given greater weight]
-Choosing between ghosts and a “normal” life

Unanswered questions:

-What happened in the cemetery that put Lizzie in debt to Henry?
-What is Adelaide’s connection to Malphas?

Now, what else could happen?

This is a bit tricky. Currently, Emily and Henry (and his anchor) are both missing. Barring one of my characters dying, not sure that it could get much worse on that front. Probably at some point Lizzie will be captured too, though probably not till the end of the third act.

On the other hand, more problems could definitely crop up in Lizzie’s “normal” life. She’s been neglecting her friends and her studies to chase ghosts — she could fail her Biology exam, or her friends could get angry that she’s ignoring them.

I also see great potential for Lizzie’s friends to accidentally involve themselves in the main plot, forcing her to reveal her abilities to them. Hmm…

Lizzie’s changing abilities could cause problems, making it harder for her to ignore the spirit world. In fact, depending on the reason for the change (which has to do with the events of the cemetery), it could even be that Lizzie is slipping farther and farther into the spirit world, at the risk of losing her life. This strikes me as a series-arc problem, though, the kind of thing that would be developed slowly over multiple entries. So I have to be careful not to go too far in that direction just yet.

Also ripe for development is Adelaide’s connection to Malphas. I have no idea what that connection will be, yet, but there will be something there.

Lastly, Devon is fantastically smarmy, and he is definitely not doing enough to cause problems at the moment. His show provides a potential avenue for Ariella and Sean to find out about Lizzie’s family business, but I want to do more with him. He’s the kind of guy who would do something that seems mercenary and makes trouble for Lizzie at first, but ultimately proves helpful. Underneath it all, he does want to help his sister.

Pulling it all Together

So there are a bunch of vague possibilities for where I might take the story. Now I just have to figure out how to wrestle that mess into an outline…

Stay tuned for the further adventures of Lizzie Bell.

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