Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Falling Action’

Confronting a Novel’s Middle

In 52 Writing Topics, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on July 29, 2012 at 11:00 am

Middles can be like a big slump – the middle of the work day, the middle seat in the back of a car or the middle of a novel.

I am at the midpoint of my novel about a 35-year-old artist named Kate who loses everything in an apartment fire and tries to replace her belongings, only to damage herself in the process.

My writer friend gave me a beat sheet that outlines 15 beats of a novel from the opening image to the final image.

A novel’s arc consists of three large beats, those of the rising action, climax, and falling action and resolution. This description does not identify the middle, because the arc is shaped to rise along one long line and drop down in a slightly curved shorter line.

According to the beat sheet, the middle is the point where the main character reaches “a false peak or false collapse” (see “Blake Snyder Beat Sheet”). The stakes are raised for this character, who already is reeling from what appears to be bad news from earlier in the story. The bad news, such as Kate losing her home, sets her on the path toward the change she needs.

Fun and games follows, which for Kate is hanging out with her friends, though she continually thinks of the things she’s lost, such as her paintings, the ceramic kittens from her Nana and her teddy bear from her childhood.

But at the midpoint, this fun is over.

The next quarter of the story unfolds as “the bad guys (things) close in,” which, for Kate, are her friends who give her a hard time for being “so sentimental,” along with a few other losses that I haven’t fully worked out.

At the moment of “All Is Lost,” the main character has to give up her old ways, clearing the way for her to change. In the rest of the story, she applies the lessons she’s learned and her old world ends to make way for her new world.

I haven’t quite figured out those lessons for Kate, though they will have to do with the realization that stuff just doesn’t matter, including those friends that burn without sparking your fire.

In cases where the middle is sagging, I like to evaluate the individual scenes and chapters to see if they are needed and fit into the arc. Do they propel the story forward? Or do they seem like extras, a tangent that takes the reader in an odd direction without being tied to the story? Scenes and passages that cannot be cut will not require too much additional work to modify the story.

For example, I wondered if I needed Kate’s puppy, Flame, who appeared without my conscious planning. After thinking about my story, I realized that if I cut Flame, I would end up removing part of what is necessary to teach Kate what she needs to learn – that there is love in Flame, or love that comes out of a fire.

See Zoey’s blog, Zoey’s Paw, on middles at

Finding Riches in Resolutions

In 52 Writing Topics, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on July 22, 2012 at 11:00 am

For the reader, this concept is essential, or the story or novel will fall apart at the end.

It is the resolution of the storyline.

A story’s resolution can be open-ended or conclude all that has happened before, drawing together the symbols, images, characters and separate plotlines into a perfect last sentence.

Stories are structured to follow an arc – consisting of the rising action, the climax, and the falling action and resolution, or the beginning, middle and end.

A conflict is introduced that in the middle is complicated only to be resolved later on.  At the midpoint, the stakes are raised for the main character. And at the point of the resolution, the plot complications are unraveled, while any loose ends are explained.

In more detail, the rising action begins with the presentation of essential information through character development, narration and dialogue. The story’s action rises through a complication, where the point-of-view character encounters conflict that can be internal, external or both.

The climax is the story’s turning point. It is the peak, or most intense part, of the telling and the result of all the events preceding it.

At this point, the character has to make a decision, resolve a problem or face a new challenge in order to end her conflict. If she decides to remain with the status quo, she will suffer the consequences.

The falling action is what results from the climax and occurs near the story’s end. The resolution, also called a reversal or denouement, is where the problem of the story is resolved or worked out.

A reversal comes into play when there is a change in the character’s situation, while the denouement gives relief to the readers that all will work out in the telling of the story.

In my latest novel, “One April Day,” the resolution is the point at which the main character, Maggie Cooper, realizes she does not need to listen to what other people tell her to do to figure out what is best for her life. She doesn’t need to follow what turned out to be a false prophecy to get what she wants – to write novels instead of working in journalism.

The resolution in my story or any other story is the point at which the plot no longer needs to move forward. The ending resolves the conflict and situation both for the main character and the plotline.

See Zoey’s blog, “Zoey’s Paw,” at