Are you saving your dramatic rescue scene for the ending? Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games keep the intensity high by including at least 3 life-or-death rescue scenes throughout their middle chapters.
And by rescue scene, I’m talking about a physical mission to save someone from immediate death, not some sort of metaphor to save the hero from embarrassment or discipline. Try writing in these 3 types of rescues to bring the middle of your novel some much-needed rising action.
1. A major character rescues the hero.
One of the hero’s best friends saves him from serious trouble. Use this scene to show the budding relationship between the two.
- In Harry Potter, Hermione rescues Harry during a quidditch match. Harry’s broom was jinxed and he was dangling from it with only one hand, high in the sky. Hermione saved him by knocking over Quirrell and setting Snape on fire, whom she believed was doing the jinx. “A sudden yelp told her she had done her job. . . . It was enough. Up in the air, Harry was suddenly able to clamber back on his broom.” (HP Ch.11).
- In Twilight, Bella’s life is saved by– who else– Edward. When she is cornered in a dark alley and about to be assaulted by a group of men, Edward appears out of nowhere in his car and saves her. “Headlights suddenly flew around the corner…’Get in,’ a furious voice commanded. It was amazing how instantaneously the choking fear vanished, amazing how suddenly the feeling of security washed over me — even before I was off the street — as soon as I heard his voice.” (TW Ch.8).
- In The Hunger Games, Peeta saves Katniss when she experiences hallucinations from the tracker jacker stings. As Cato approaches to kill her, Peeta saves her by taking the blow and forcing Katniss to run away. “Sick and disoriented, I’m able to form only one thought: Peeta Mellark just saved my life.” (HG Ch. 14).
2. A minor character rescues the hero.
When the hero gets into a jam, send in a minor character to save him– your readers will never expect it.
- In Harry Potter‘s forbidden forest scene, Firenze the Centaur rescues Harry after he runs into a hooded figure drinking unicorn blood. “Then a pain like he’d never felt before pierced his head. . . .He heard hooves behind him, galloping, and something jumped clean over Harry, charging at the figure.” (HP Ch.15).
- In Twilight, Edward saves Bella from being hit by a car. (Okay, Edward isn’t a minor character, but in the words of Bella, he’s her “perpetual savior.” I’ll let it slide because it’s a romance.) “Two long, white hands shot out protectively in front of me, and the van shuddered to a stop a foot from my face, the large hands fitting providentially into a deep dent in the side of the van’s body.” (TW Ch.3).
- In The Hunger Games, Thresh saves Katniss when Clove tries to kill her with a knife. “But as I feel the tip open the first cut at my lip, some great force yanks Clove from my body and then she’s screaming. . . . Clove is dangling a foot off the ground, imprisoned in Thresh’s arm.” (HG Ch.21).
3. The hero attempts to rescue a friend.
Harry, Katniss, and Bella attempt to rescue a major character, but none of them pull off a picture-perfect fairy tale rescue.
- Harry and Ron rescue Hermione from the troll attack, but they were the ones who accidentally locked the troll in the bathroom with her in the first place. Hermione explains, “If they hadn’t found me, I’d be dead now. Harry stuck his wand up its nose and Ron knocked it out with its own club.” (HP Ch.10).
- Katniss tries to rescue Rue, who is trapped in a net, but doesn’t make it in time. “Rue! I’m coming!” . . . . “She just has time to reach her hand through the mesh and say my name before the spear enters her body.” (HG Ch.18).
- In Twilight, Bella doesn’t get the chance to rescue Edward, and she laments this fact. “. . . a man and woman have to be somewhat equal . . . as in, one of them can’t always be swooping in and saving the other one. They have to save each other equally.” . . . . “You have saved me,” he said quietly. “I can’t always be Lois Lane,” I insisted. “I want to be Superman, too.” (TW Ch. 23).
Why it works:
All of these rescues mean that there are at least three life-and-death situations in the middle of the novel, even before the climax! (The final scene at the end of the novel is its own kind of rescue.)
Besides making the reader’s heart beat faster, these rescue situations round out the hero’s character and make him more likeable. The hero needs to be saved twice, which helps the readers see some vulnerability. It’s easier to warm up to someone who is a little flawed.
Next, the fact that a minor character steps in to save the hero adds an element of surprise, and shows how well-respected he is by his peers.
Finally, the hero’s attempted rescue of a friend shows us that he even though he may be brave enough, he still has plenty of room to grow. The reader feels the conflict by worrying whether or not the hero will be able to get it together when he faces the main villain.
So now we have three new scene cards to add to the master outline. I placed the rescue by a minor character in Chapter 11, the rescue by a major character in Chapter 17, and the hero’s attempted rescue of a friend in Chapter 13.
Welcome to the middle of the novel– now go save some lives!