Dear Diary: Working from the Mirror Moment

The middle. There’s more to it than just Malcolm.

It’s what many writers fear because it’s the point where your story changes. Often referred to as the “saggy middle” or the “floppy middle”, it’s the bane of writers everywhere. So when I tell you this middle you may be so scared of is WHERE you should start? That sounds crazy town.

But it’s not. And here’s why.

I recently (like yesterday) read a book on craft called Writing Your Novel From the Middle by James Scott Bell. And what he proposes is that smack dab in the middle of every great book or movie is something called The Mirror Moment. It’s not so much an event as it is a moment of character development. Because every story is basically about character change of some sort, the change has to happen somewhere. And Bell says in engaging books and movies, it’s basically in the middle of your novel.

He stopped multiple movies dead in the middle and found in almost every one, this mirror moment happened. Then he took his favorite books, classic and bestselling and jumped to the middle and voila, there it was: the mirror moment. (I tried it with Divergent and Maleficent and they BOTH had it!)

And then I did it with Fault In Our Stars. And guess what was in the middle? Chapter 11. Amsterdam. When Hazel confronts Augustus about his cavalier attitude about death. BOOM.
(Did you just get chills? I did.)

“The mirror moment” is when the main character must face a death of one or more types: physical, psychological, or professional. It can most certainly be more than one of these, as well. But in facing this death, the character questions himself, who he has become, and how he will ever get out of the situation. It’s the point where the character resolves he either must change or face their fears. From that point forward, the character moves toward the transformation.

So, according to Bell, every scene before the mirror moment moves the story TO that mirror moment, and every scene afterward moves AWAY from the moment to the final transformation.

What is even more mind blowing (and where I became so excited to write my own), is if you write this moment FIRST, your novel has much clearer focus and can be layered. Because you are always writing to and from this pivotal scene, you know what your story is about. Not just what happens, but WHY YOUR STORY MATTERS.

So, with my current WIP, I tried it. I had already written the query and the first chapter, so I knew how the story started and how it would end, but I hadn’t figured out how it progressed … until I wrote my “mirror moment” scene. It was like a light shining from the heavens. There it was. The beginning of my character’s transformation. The exact moment she decides what she thought she wanted, wasn’t. And it’s this same moment, she decides what she must do. For her, it’s a professional death. With this, I’m now so focused on where I need to go, my problem now is I can’t write the whole novel in one day, which is what I want to do.

Since I always get stuck in the middle of my stories, I know this will help me so much. And I’m so excited I won’t have to stress about the blah middle again, because now my middle has so much more purpose. And I want to shout out from the rooftops START WITH THE MIDDLE.