If you haven't read James Scott Bell's books on writing, you're missing out on some great information. The first book of his I read was Plot & Structure, and it set me on the right path.
I recently came across a relatively new book of his titled Write Your Novel From the Middle that lays out an interesting premise about something Bell calls the mirror moment in any great story.
Bell's theory is that there is a single moment in the middle of the story where the main character takes a "long, hard look at himself (as in a mirror). He asks, Who am I? What have I become? Who am I supposed to be?"
Bell says if you can nail that moment, everything that comes before and after it will have more depth and resonance.
Let's test his theory (Spoiler alert: we discuss endings below so skip past any of the books that are still on your to-read list).
Towards the end of Part 4 (8 parts total) in Chapter XVII is the middle of the book. It's the scene where Anna Karenina is in confinement having given birth to her lover's child, and is suffering from a fever the doctor feels will lead to her death. Anna sent a telegram to Karenin begging him to come and forgive her on her deathbed. The scene unfolds with the two men, husband and lover, coming to terms and shaking hands, Karenin forgiving Anna and having a true change of heart about her.
It's the turning point in the novel. It's the moment when the two different men look at themselves in the mirror and decide what they want for the future. Karenin is honorable; Vronsky is not, and even attempts suicide. Anna recovers from her fever, but sets out on a wild course that will eventually end in her real death.
In the case of Anna Karenina, the mirror moment holds true.
The Great Gatsby
Half way through 154 pages, Jordan and Nick are together, and she's explaining to him how Daisy knew Gatsby from a time before and how serious she'd been about him. But her family intervened, and she ended up marrying Tom, while Gatsby left for the service. It isn't until later that Daisy realizes the man in West Egg hosting the fantastic parties is the same sailor she fell in love with.
The crux of the matter comes down to Gatsby asking Jordan to intervene with Nick to invite Daisy over to Nick's house. Then Gatsby can drop in and see Daisy without her knowing it's been staged. This is when everything Gatsby has been working towards is put into motion. And it will be his downfall.
Mirror moment strikes again.
To Kill a Mockingbird
About half way through this exquisite book, a group of men show up on the Finch's front yard demanding to see Atticus. Jem presses his face against the glass in the living room to hear what's being said.
The group is concerned about Tom Robinson being held in the town jail, afraid certain people will protest. They're trying to convince Atticus to do something so there won't be any violence. The crowd comprises prominent men in town who don't understand why Atticus is putting his reputation on the line for Robinson. They beg him, "You've got everything to lose from this, Atticus."
Atticus's response is purely Atticus Finch. "Do you really think so?" Scout says that's his "dangerous question." It's his go-to response before he takes someone down a peg for being short-sighted or narrow-minded.
Here, the reader sees Atticus Finch in the mirror, an honorable man willing to stand up for what he believes in. He's more concerned that the truth come out at the trial than he is in what happens to his good name. We see Atticus's reflection in the mirror and know that the rest of the book will be him proving to everyone else how narrow-minded and wrong they can be.
Third mirror moment's a charm.
Let me leave you with the wise words of James Scott Bell about the mirror moment.
- "(I)f you are intentional about what this moment is in your own book, it will illuminate everything for you. The writing will be more unified and organic. If you’re a pantser, you’ll be guided on what to pants next. If you’re an outliner, it will help you revise your outline."
Now for the fun part. What book did you just finish reading? Tell us if it had a mirror moment in the middle. Let's expand our research beyond the three titles in this article and see how true the mirror moment is.