“I like to tell stories about people trying to make the right, difficult decision at the least opportune moment... People in a crucible of an extraordinary circumstance. And then, how that experience changes their life.” —Doug Stanton

This week, I’m teaching a 90-minute workshop on writing or pitching a middle grade book series. The fun of writing a series is that I get to take my time to build relationships between characters. I can imagine problems or friendships that build. I really get to know everyone over the course of several stories in a way that isn’t possible in a single novel.

I like to think of every novel as a crucible. It’s about crafting a series of events that lead to a single, pivotal moment that changes someone, revealing their true self. That’s what a crucible is—it’s a vessel (in the Bronze Age, it was made of clay) that can withstand extreme heat. Place ore inside and heat the crucible, and eventually, the pure metal will be revealed. In a series, often the main character will be tested over and over—and will become more and more themself after each trial. 

If you’re trying to write an emotional climax, consider how your character will change after this experience. What will it take for them to become a different person? One of the most common student mistakes I see is when writers write climaxes that are too small—the character realizes something, and the story is over. But literature is more effective when we see someone take action. An extraordinary situation has arisen—what choice will your character make? What will the heat reveal?

What circumstances will be enough to form the crucible?