Guest Post: Kait Nolan

Without further ado, here’s a guest post by Kait Nolan! Her contact details are at the bottom of the post. Tomorrow I’ll have some fresh pimpage for you!

The Dreaded Valley of the Shadow of the Middle

Writing a book is like taking a journey.  I know, hardly the most original analogy, but go with me here.  You, the intrepid, bright-eyed writer, start out with a buzz of excitement and a steady pace.  You’re leaving behind the familiar and look forward to exploring new lands with excitement.  Then the wave of New Shiny excitement runs out toward the end of the setup and first Act of your novel, and the journey begins to get more difficult.  The carrion eaters are beginning to circle. 

You have now reached the Dreaded Valley of the Shadow of the Middle.  :cue ominous music:

I can’t tell you how many books I’ve had die in this long and lonely place.  Even if I could see the end of the journey and knew how the story should end, I had no idea what the heck happened in the middle to get them there.  :looks around:  Wait.  Is that the skull of that werewolf I abandoned here last year?  :clutches mighty pen tighter:

At the risk of sounding all “go plotters!”, I have to say that largely this was a symptom of the fact that I was a pantser.  So I went through this long process of trying to make the switch, writing out a series of connected scenes until I came out the other side.  But that mired me so deep in the swamp of the And Then’s that the book suffocated from boredom and lack of direction. 

Was I to be defeated by the Dreaded Valley of the Shadow of the Middle AGAIN? 

No, I was not!  Fear not, brave writer, there is a MAP!  You have a guide through the dangerous terrain of the DVSM and it does not involve plotting.  Well, not exactly anyway.  In order to safely traverse the DVSM, you must prepare for the journey.  If you were planning on hiking the Appalachian Trail, you wouldn’t go off without packing the necessary gear, would you?  Neither should you try to push through the DVSM without proper preparation. 

If the idea of needing to know every single step your character is going to take makes you quell and whimper, don’t worry.  You’re not alone.  When you go on a trip with your Google Map directions in hand , you don’t know every inch of your route.  What you do know are the list of major towns you’ll be going through.  Maybe some of the big landmarks you’ll be passing by.  What you DO need are these towns/landmarks/major stopping points by which to orient yourself.  This is the basis of what Larry Brooks calls story structure.  He is my favorite writing guru, and I shall send you forthwith to check out his blog series on story structure (start on this page and work your way chronologically forward) and thence to purchase the ebook (which is totally worth its weight in gold).  [Note: I’m not an affiliate or anything, I just really love his stuff.]

You need to know your First Plot Point.  This is the primary conflict, the thing that imparts meaning to the story arc.  It’s probably where you ran out of gas at the end of the New Shiny setup.  Up to this point, your characters have been just strolling along with their normal lives, then BOOM, something changes everything.  That’s your FPP and what follows it is Act 2.

The Setup: You’re living your peaceful country life. Although you sometimes dream of adventure, you’re very happy.

The First Plot Point: Then, out of nowhere, someone comes along and steals your whatsis, a precious family heirloom, and breaks your poor mother’s heart. You realize that you must venture forth in pursuit of this evil-doer and reclaim your family whatsis.

During Act 2 your hero is a wanderer.  You’ve got three things to go for in this section: 

1) A retreat and a regrouping.   Your FPP just knocked your hero on his butt.  He needs to regroup, to think.  To figure out how to deal with stuff.

You find try to track the thief by means of your paltry magic talent, which was great for finding lost pigs back home, but it backfires, make you weaker than before. Still you’re committed and move forward.

2) A doomed attempt to take action.  Hero tries to do something to solve the conflict.  It doesn’t work (because if it worked you wouldn’t have a story). 

You catch up to the thief only to find that this is no mere thief but a sorcerer, and you barely escape his mojo with your person intact. However, you press onward.

3) A reminder of the nature of the antagonistic force.  Straight up, let the bad guys gain some ground.  Show them as worthy opponents who, right now, look like they’re going to win.  (That would be the sorcerer with the bad mojo).

See there?  A LIST of stuff your hero should be trying!  And all of this leads up to your next big stop off: The Midpoint, which is the contextual shift in your story that changes things for the hero and pumps up the conflict and dramatic tension. 

And next thing you know, you come upon the information that your whatsis holds great magic! Your talent passed to you through a long line of sorcerers, but your family has been in hiding, guarding the whatsis. Now that it is in the hands of the enemy, it must be recovered or it means certain DOOM for all good folk everywhere. You must learn to harness your power to get it back. Come on, use that Force.

Well, with the knowledge that deep inside you lives a kick-ass sorcerer, and that the fate of the world hangs in the balance, you sally forth out of the midpoint with a new determination to get that whatsis.

After that comes Act 3 (and just FYI, we’re operating on a 4 act structure here) during which your hero is a warrior.  This is the attack phase.  He’s committed now and during Act 3 he’s going to take proactive action against the antagonistic force as well as combating his inner demons.  But of course the antagonistic force is stepping up its game too, overcoming its weakness in pursuit of its own agenda or quest. 

But now the evil one knows you’re coming. He knows that you know, and he’s not playing around anymore. He’s going to kick your fictional butt. Duck!

All that leads up to your next major stop off: the second plot point (SPP), which is the LAST important piece of the puzzle that the hero needs to become the major catalyst in the story’s resolution.  Or as Larry summarizes, “It’s when the chase scene starts.”   It’s also where the Dreaded Valley of the Shadow of the Middle ENDS.  You’re in Act 4 and on the downhill slope and running toward the finish line.

And now here you are, at the castle complete with skulls and scary birds and what have you. It seems impossible that you will get in, never mind escape with the whatsis. But then, into your hands, yet properly foreshadowed, falls that the key, not only to entry, but to his ultimate undoing. If, of course, you really are brave and true enough for the job.

This is all the stuff of the middle.  If you arm yourself with a rudimentary map, complete with your first plot point, midpoint, and second plot points, with some idea of how the bad guy shows his stuff in both Act 2 and Act 3, you’re going to find that it’s a lot easier to make it through the DVSM.  And please, don’t stop with my abbreviated and paltry summary.  Go check out the full series on story structure.  It just might be the thing that saves those flagging books from certain death in the Dreaded Valley of the Shadow of the Middle.  [Note: Thank you to my awesome crit partner Susan Bischoff for this illustrative five minute summary story.]

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For those who are interested, my debut paranormal romance novella, Forsaken By Shadow, is available at Scribd, Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the iBookstore.  It is the first in the Mirus series.

Banished from their world with his memory wiped, Cade Shepherd doesn’t remember his life as Gage Dempsey, nor the woman he nearly died for. But when Embry Hollister’s father is kidnapped by military scientists, the only one she can turn to is the love from her past. Will Gage remember the Shadow Walker skills he learned from her father? If they survive, will Embry be able to walk away again?

Link to book cover image:

Kait’s writing blog Shadow and Fang

Kait’s cooking blog Pots and Plots

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Posted by Nicole Peeler

Author, Professor, Lover, Fighter

2 thoughts on “Guest Post: Kait Nolan”

  1. Great post Kait! I'd never call myself a plotter, since I write in chunks all over the place, but I do tend to – how shall I put this – leap ahead a little in daydreams. I'll be writing somewhere near the first 1/3 of the book but in the back of my mind I'm moving forward, asking questions about what comes later. So far so good. Just can't seem to get butt in chair every day yet!

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