As part of revising middle chapters in my current draft, I’m looking at some notes I made on turning points while writing Deep as a Tomb. The typical problem in the middle of a novel is that the story sags. You’re not yet to the climax but are laying in all that has to happen before the climax can happen. That can drag.
The best advice I’ve seen for avoiding that sagginess is to give each scene an internal and external turning point. When you do that, you take a chapter that reads “this happens and then that happens and then that” into one that reads “this happens and builds to that! And then here are the consequences that flow. Oh look. That change is both internal and external.” The scene’s shape changes from linear to a rising and falling curve.
All scenes have this potential
The most interesting thing is that all scenes have this potential. The writer puts them in for a reason, even if that reason isn’t yet clear to the writer. So right now, I’m considering the last three chapters I’ve written and trying to articulate those turning points better. I don’t want to leave this for the revision phase because those turns give directionality to the story.
Adding an internal turning point
In Deep as a Tomb, my girl character was sneaking into her father’s manor to take some ancient books and hide them. She was in the process of eloping, but she did this first because the knowledge in the books was too important to take a chance on losing. Her father already burned one book just to show her he was serious about what he’d do if she disobeyed him.
So I thought of this as just an action scene. But as I’ve tried to keep in mind with my current book, action matters only as it matters to the character. A book can be set in the Civil War, but unless the war matters to the characters, it doesn’t matter.
So what did hiding the books mean to Myla in Deep as a Tomb? What did it mean both externally (save the books) and, what I was missing, internally? This was a very daring and brave thing for her to do. Her father was extremely controlling and had belittled her all her life. So I needed to make her conscious of how scary it was for her even apart from the physical action, and how freeing it was in the end to defy him. That sounded obvious once I thought of it, but most good stuff does.
Scenes that can’t be skipped
Scenes that can’t be skipped are created partly through including both external and internal arcs. I’ll remember that as I keep working on my current book.