Last week I started a series on boosting your sagging middle with several examples of different spins you could put on the ‘I got a secret’ technique. This week it’s the “what if” question. This works great for those middles where you know you have solid key events, you just need a little shot of caffeine to get you through.
The key to the “what if” technique is to unleash the muse. Don’t limit the possibilities. Sometimes the wilder the “what if” the better it works. For example, let’s say I need a distraction for my serial killer, something that gets him out of the house away from my victim because I have a great scene but the killer has to walk in. I could just have him ‘leave’ go into the black hole known as a scene break. Which isn’t bad but it slows your pace and a slow pace equals a saggy middle.
So I list the “what if” possibilities for my serial killer. If I had limited myself, I would have never came up with the birthday party. My serial killer has a twin sister, who he happens to love. So I started to “what if” possibilities that included her. I decided she has a child. A child with special needs. My serial killer feels for the child because he knows what it’s like to be a ‘freak.’ He realizes that it’s the child’s birthday. He’s torn between killing my heroine and attending the party. In the end, he goes to the party. This was unexpected and it gave my killer another layer besides a crazed lunatic. The scene was intense because he kept bouncing back and forth between wanting to be there for the child and his sister and the need to return to his victim.
Common questions to ask the “what if”…
-there is a family illness not life threatening (remember you’re looking to boost a sagging middle not change the plot)
-there is neighbor event (block party, bomb scare – a false alarm)
-someone makes an unexpected request (mom calls and HAS to be taken to store)
-It’s an anniversary of an event that means something only to the character.
****Key with the “what if” technique. The purpose is to boost the middle NOT change the plot. Sometimes you might stumble across a “what if” that does change the plot of the better BUT I can’t warn enough about using caution with this. The “what if” plot bunny is a slippery fellow, he often leads down a dead end tunnel.
Do you use the “what if” technique to boost a sagging middle? If so what are some of your favorite “what if” questions?