Writing the Build-up, or Act II of a story follows the set-up, or Act I. Now let’s wade into the bulk of a story: How writers can effectively flesh out the premise or set-up in the story opening.
Writing Tip for Today: Let’s discuss the vital elements of your story build-up:
If you think of your story as a board game, your protagonist is always either moving toward or away from the Goal. Yet, if the scenes you write don’t follow the order of Rising Action, they will seem illogical or even confusing.
As the scenes progress, your character may believe he/she is getting closer to the Goal even as readers can see that the opposite is true. Rising Action which leads your character in the wrong direction helps maintain and grow tension. And it gives your character the opportunity to change and grow, the ultimate story goal.
Rising Action simply means that the tension, conflict, stakes and risk your character faces in each scene should be steeper, bigger and more consequential than the last. The “action” doesn’t always mean stuff is blowing up though. Sometimes interior tension and conflict is more fraught with consequence than a car chase. Aim for a blend of interior and action moves—you want readers yelling, “Oh no! Don’t go there!”
Death Becomes Her
The Midpoint is one of the most important spots in your story. About halfway into your tale, the character needs to experience a moment in which the story meaning is more or less clear to the reader. This point shines a light on the one thing all characters must face, according to James Scott Bell: Death.
This death isn’t usually the type with the character dying off physically. If that happens either another character steps up or the story’s over. The death Bell describes is usually the death of a belief, a dream, a fantasy. The character understands that the goal isn’t going to be easy. He/She learns that what she’s believed about herself isn’t really true. Things he’s believed about others gets upended. The blinders we all wear at times come off—if only briefly.
All characters must face death of some sort.
The Midpoint also needs to have a major set-back or crisis to propel your character to fight for the Goal. Facing death will happen at the climax, but at midpoint the character gets an inkling that they’re not in Kansas anymore. At this Midpoint, the true story stakes become apparent. Be sure you’ve built high stakes into your story. Otherwise, the Build-up will be a huge let-down.
Along your story timeline, events unfold as scenes in which your character wins, loses or it’s a draw (not recommended). You, as the author must not allow the story to unfold as in real life—most of the time, you get sporadic action punctuated by boring routine. As your scenes rise in action toward a crisis, don’t linger too long on details that don’t contribute to the fight for the Goal.
One way to be sure you have a Build-up to a satisfying Resolution is by going back and planting stuff. Plant a paragraph that sheds light on the character’s psychological underpinnings, and the climax will seem logical. Plant information somewhere in the Build-up—maybe about the why of your character’s motivations. That way, Resolution (the Pay-off) will seem logical and satisfying. You want readers thinking it couldn’t have happened any other way.
Plant info along the way to keep a story humming.
All along the Build-up, you want to avoid the dreaded sagging middle. By keeping the stakes high, attending to Rising Action and by giving your character a huge set-back or crisis, you’re setting up for the All Hope is Lost scene, which should come either at the tail-end of Build-up or the start of the Pay-off (Act III). Take your story’s temperature by comparing it to these guidelines, and your middle has the best chance of eliminating Middle Sag.