Re-Writing Lesson 2: Taking a closer look at my recommended method for using the B-M-E Chart!
Or, if it helps you more easily remember today’s discussion… My Beginning-End-Middle Chart.
First, be sure if you haven’t to brush up on Rewriting Lesson 1, where I begin discussing my methods and philosophy for deconstructing and re-writing manuscript drafts.
Then grab all those notes you’ve made from your own Work-in-Progress, because you did your homework and have been looking at your current draft, right? Right?! And maybe you had a bit of a struggle encapsulating what’s happening with your characters at these key story turning points (Inciting Incident, Midpoint, and Black Moment). If so, welcome to the club. These aren’t high concepts most of us have nailed down when we first begin to draft.
So, let’s take another stab at it. Even if you’re happy so far with what you’ve learned about your story from using the chart, indulge me and lean into Lesson 2 and your draft with a fresh set of eyes.
The B-M-E Chart Process
Some quick definitions as we begin. Just summaries, for the sake of this exercises and post.
- Inciting Incident: the first key turning point in a manuscript, when something happens that has never happened before, propelling the protagonist and antagonist together into the external flow of the story.
- Midpoint: the center-most turning point in the manuscript, the tent post “propping up” the external and internal arcs of the story;the “ah-ha” moment when the protagonist realizes the “true” goal/conflict of her/his journey and pivots (through a shift in motivation) toward pursuing the objective that will drive her choices and actions for the second half of the novel.
- Black Moment: the pinnacle moment where all that is at stake for the protagonist is revealed and all hope is lost if the the protagonist hasn’t learned enough throughout the story’s arc and/or isn’t ready to make the no-going-back, life-changing choice being asked of her.
Step 1: Can you isolate these turning points in your draft?
Not theoretically, not as you think back about what you meant to do with your story. Actually, physically, can you turn to these places in your printout (PLEASE, when you’re deconstructing a drafted work-in-progress, print it out and work with a hard copy. I swear, developmental/content editing is so much more effective at the analytical stage if you work with hard copy rather than scrolling through a digital copy)?
I have a method I’ll describe in a later re-write lesson for isolating specific scenes while deconstructing a novel, and how to learn the most you can from that exercise. But for now do the best you can and put your finger on when these three critical events happen to your protagonist. Not what you planned to do, or what you meant to do, but what you physically wrote as you drafted.
Step 2: Fill out your B-M-E Chart OUT OF SEQUENCE.
You heard me. I encourage my students and clients to get comfortable, once they’ve drafted their first pass at the full story, with seeing their story’s individual elements (parts) out of context. Out of sequence. Otherwise, it can be very difficult to isolate each part of your story and character’s journey. And isolating each part (in addition to seeing the whole and how well everything works together) is essential to achieving a better result when you re-write your draft.
For the B-M-E chart, I encourage out-of-sequence work because an essential key in successful storytelling, in my experience, is that the Inciting Incident and Black Moment mirror each other. These are the book-ends of your character’s journey. And as Debra Dixon tells us, the Inciting Incident (II) drives the Black Moment (BM). The II is the promise to the reader of what the story will be about (from a character standpoint, and, remember, this is a character exercise), and the BM is the pay-off. These key turning point must function separately in the flow of the story, but they’d also better function in a kick-ass way together.
As we learned in Lesson 1, filling out the B-M-E Chart is about pinpointing the emotional focus of your characters at the beginning, middle and end of your story. For the sake of this exercise, let’s use the protagonist as our example.
FIRST, define those emotional goals, motives and conflicts for the Beginning (the II). Why does she choose to take the journey of the book? What drives her to want what she wants and be willing to do what she’ll do next to get it? And how is this different than other journey’s she’s taken? Remember, for the B-M-E chart, we’re not talking about external plot, we’re focusing on the internal landscape and path the emotional character’s on. How does this character begin the journey, how will she change, and how will she be different and able to (compelled to) make better and more critical choices at the end of her journey?
THEN, define those same emotional elements for the character as she arrives at the End of her journey (the BM). Hold yourself accountable here. Don’t go off page; don’t interject what you what the BM to be about, or what you thought you did. Be honest and describe in a few sentences the actual, on-page end-point for the character’s journey.
AND ONLY THEN, define those same emotional elements for the character at the Middle (the midpoint) of her story journey.
This is how we isolate what we’ve done with a character as we draft, vs. what we meant to do, or what we think we’ve done. This is how we deconstruct.
BTW, THIS is why I have students and clients focus on only the beginning, middle and end of a draft when we first begin deconstructing. If you’ve found this process confusing at all, imagine what it would be like to try and understand the mechanics of everything you’ve created, all at once.
Ugh! See what I mean? The B-M-E chart isn’t looking so bad now, is it?
Step 3: Assess your character’s journey through the book using only the B-M-E Chart.
Congratulations, you’ve completed a high-level deconstruction of your character’s emotional arc through your story. Again, for the purpose of this lesson, let’s focus on the protagonist’s row alone in the B-M-E Chart.
Hopefully as you filled out, out of sequence, the the B-M-E Chart for your protagonist’s row, you got a whiff of where we’re going next. Which is…
First, compare where your protagonist winds up emotionally at the BM with where she began at the II. Does where she resolves her story mirror enough where she began, such that you give the reader a clear promise/path to follow with her? And yet, has she grown significantly over the course of the story, so that she’s in a different place emotionally, making more complex choices with each turning point, so that when the ultimate decision/sacrifice is asked of her at the BM, she’s poised to either succeed or (all hope is lost) fail?
Second, look at your Midpoint emotional description for your character–the change she undergoes in the tent-post moment of the external story. Is this clearly propelling her toward the emotional BM state she will be in at the end of the manuscript? At the midpoint, she can’t know everything about her journey yet (and neither can the reader), but the story must be revealing more essential parts of her character and emotional make up and revealing something new that forces her to decide to strike out on the second half of the story’s external plot, with renewed purpose and a substantially refined emotional goal.
Finally, compare your character’s emotional description at the II to where she finds herself at the Midpoint. Back it up all the way to the beginning. Now’s the time to turn your eye fully to how the story began, to see if you’re setting up the character from square one to have a robust, ever-evolving, dynamically changing arc. Because, you see, it’s all about the set up.
The Inciting Incident is the key, even though I have you focus on it last, once you’ve taken the time to look out-of-sequence at all the rest.
The beauty of having a full draft to analyze is that now you have a big picture to play with.
You have a fully-fleshed out idea to re-write into. You’re not done with your book; you’re only beginning. Because now, seeing where you want this character to end up, you can better understand what needs to happen in her journey along the way. You can refine that tent post that props up her middle, so she doesn’t sag. And you can do whatever you need to, to her beginning, such that you’re promising the reader exactly what she needs to see and believe and root for…ensuring that the reader is hooked into the character’s journey and determined to keep reader all the way to the end.
We’ll talk next week about manuscript deconstruction analysis and how to plan your re-write, using all that you’ve learned from filling out the B-M-E Chart.
But for now, focus on the process. Practice the above with multiple manuscripts you’ve written or attempted. Practice it with published novels from your favorite author(s). Do it with a favorite movie, if that is more fun. It works for all types of story.
The key is to make yourself comfortable with seeing story and character, at least at a high level, from the standpoint of its various parts. To challenge yourself to step back from the information you gather, so that you can evaluate individual parts and pieces and how they fit together.
There’s so much more exciting work you can do with the B-M-E chart–with theme and symbol and setting and secondary plots and so forth. And, yes, we’ll get into that later as well. But for today, gift yourself with the power to think outside the box, to NOT BE intimidated by the complexity of your draft. Trust that, even though you’ll discover flaws, you can focus on key parts of your work, really understand what you’re doing and what you’re not, and prepare yourself for diving back in to make your magnificent draft even better.
Then come back next week and begin to devise a re-writing plan for improving your protagonist’s emotional arc through her story!
Because…that’s how you write ;o)
Tags: Anna DeStefano, anna’s world, B-M-E approach, B-M-E chart, creativity & inspiration, deconstruct, deconstruction, editing, How You Write, inspiration, revision, rewriting, writing, writing articles, writing coach, writing craft, writing resources