You’ve written a great intro, caught the reader’s attention and are ready to move to the bulk of the story – the middle. Before you get there, however, you need to cross a bridge … then burn it. Before you can show me everything that happens between the hero and the heroine, you need to show me why they don’t have any other choice.
My favorite example for this is The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring. Frodo agrees to take the ring to Rivendell, but then his job is done. If he wanted to, he could turn around and go home. No one would blame him. He is, afterall, just a hobbit, and no one expects much from him … until he volunteers to carry the ring to Mordor. From that point on he is held to his word – he told a room full of people that he would take the ring, and honor holds him to that. There is no turning back.
What about something a little less epic? In my current work-in-progress I have a heroine who moves in with her brother to execute a plan, but the plan doesn’t work and she slips into a depression. Early in my writing a critique partner made an excellent observation: my heroine is incredibly strong willed and independent – why didn’t she just move back home?
Good question! I wrote her across the bridge, but she still had an out. I decided to sublet her apartment … with all of her furniture inside. That gave me a great opportunity to show her personality (she’s so sure she’ll succeed that she gave up her home) while also torching her escape route.
Before you start writing the middle of your novel, look back and make sure you’ve burned your bridges. You don’t want people to finish your book thinking, “Well that was stupid. If the hero had just done this instead of that, he would have been fine.” Don’t let him be fine. Get rid of his options and make him step into the middle of the story. Your readers will thank you.
Something to think about: your favorite novels, movies, television shows – what’s the first bridge the writers burned?