7B) “Shutter Island” – The Part 2 Pinch Point and the Mid-Point

The second of two parts on this phase of the deconstruction. 

The Part 2 Pinch Point

Pinch Points are moments in which the story’s primary antagonistic force comes back to center stage.  That can take many forms, and it can involve the hero. 

Or not.  It can be a cutaway to approaching danger that the hero isn’t even aware of.  Either way.

They are a basic element of story structure, as they are an essential and powerful tool to keep the story centered on the hero’s journey and what opposes her or him.  In a character-driven story in particular, it’s easy to slow things down too much as we go deep into the various aspects of characterization, and the Pinch Points are there to make sure that doesn’t happen.

The First Pinch Point in Shutter Island

In this story the first Pinch Point, which should come right in the middle of Part 2, occurs when Teddy reads the note that was given to him by the crazy smoking woman he’d interviewed back in the cafeteria.

Her message to him is to “run.”  It means she knows he’s in danger.  That this is a conspiracy with him as its target.

This brings the story right back to the central source of tension.  Think of a Pinch Point as the antagonistic’s chance to assume center stage for a moment, which is otherwise occupied by the hero.  At the 3/8ths mark and the 5/8ths mark in your story (smack in the middle of Part 2 and Part 3), the Pinch Point makes this happen.

In a story about a stalker, for example, the Pinch Points would be when the stalker appears and has a near miss with the hero, scaring the bejezzus out of her and us.

After the First Pinch Point in Shutter Island

That message — “run” — reminds us that Teddy is in the middle of something he doesn’t understand. Which is, in essence, the antagonistic force that opposes his quest and need in this story.

More reaction scenes ensue after that happens, because we are still in Part 2, which is all about responding:  Teddy and Chuck react to the worsening storm… he has a flashback to dead bodies, which is a form of reaction to his dealings with Dolores… he realizes that he’s the pawn in this game… he solves the “Who is number 67?” riddle… he takes more pills when they are offered… the storm traps them…

… and then…

… the Mid-Point arrives.  Part 2 is over, the context will shift, and then Part 3 is underway with a brand new mission and context of its own.

Everything in Part 2 has, to some extent (some subtle, some not) shown us how Teddy is reacting to information and circumstances.  In general his reaction to affirm and deepen his paranoid fantasy that this is all some sort of diabolical military intelligence project. 

He’s not really solving anything yet – Rachael has conveniently shown up, case closed, and he had nothing to do with finding her – and he is no closer to finding Laeddis.

The Nature of the Mid-Point and the Shift it Creates

The Mid-Point is one of the three major story-twisting milestones in a story, and it occurs just where the name suggests – as close as possible to the middle of the story.  It can look and smell just like a plot point… or not.  But however subtle it is, it always does one thing: it adds new information to the story that changes the context of the hero’s experience and journey.

It turns the hero from a responding wanderer, into an attacking warrior.

Shutter Island is a perfectly clear example of that happening.  And, in the film at least, it happens to the exact minute of its assigned spot — directly, mathmatically, in the middle of the story’s length.

In the paperback this same Mid-Point shift happens on page 206, which is the 56th percent mark out of 36 pages, a bit late but close enough to count.  Hey, this is art, the principles are guidelines rather than hard-edged rules, and we have more latitude with them in novels than we do in screenplays. 

The mission of the Mid-Point is to shift the context of the story through the introduction of new information that parts the curtain.  The hero and/or the audience both have a new perspective, and the characters begin to act upon it.

Sometimes in mysteries this is when the killer is revealed, either to the hero or the audience, or both.  This shifts the story from a mystery into a thriller, technically-speaking, which means the nature of the tension is different.

But more importantly, it moves the hero from response mode into attack mode.

What follows the Mid-Point is the launch of Part 3, the mission of which is to give us scenes that show the hero clicking into warrior mode by taking proactive action.  The hero, heretofore having been running, pondering, trying to figure things out, is now trying to solve their problem, find the missing pieces (Laeddis, in this case) and generate a solution.

They don’t get all the way there, by the way — that’s the mission of Part 4 — and sometimes their efforts get them into even deeper trouble.  But at least they’re trying.

Often this is where their inner demons stand in their way, even though they are being proactive.  When this is the case, Part 4 becomes the part of the story in which they figure out what works and what doesn’t, they learn their lessons, and then and only then can they be different as they finally, heroically, become the primary catalyst in the resolution of the conflict.

Read that last part again.  The hero needs to be just that — heroic.  There’s no rescuing the hero, no luck involved.  The story resolve later in Part 4 because of the hero.  The seeds of that are planted here, in Part 3, after the Mid-Point changes things.

In Part 3, because of the new information in the Mid-Point, the hero begins to get their hero on.

The Mid-Point Moment in Shutter Island

In Shutter, the Mid-Point occurs when Teddy and Chuck sneak out of the ward and, under cover of the storm, head toward Ward C.

Their purpose?  To find Andrew Laeddis.

The new information?  Teddy has concluded that if Laeddis is really here, which he learned at Plot Point One, then Ward C is where he would be.  Cawley and Naehring would be conducting experiments on him there, and if not, then Laeddis would be in the dreaded lighthouse getting a lobotomy.

Teddy is rooting for the former, since he wants to kill him personally.

The Rachael thing has been put to bed… he’s all about getting to Laeddis now.

Teddy is now a warrior.  A man on a mission.  He’s done responding and wandering.  He’s now proactive, and he’s pissed.

In context to this story and its inherent deception and twisted context, he’s finally becoming a hero.

Tomorrow’s post – The Second Plot Point and the Ensuing Part 4

Want to learn more about Plot Points, Pinch Points and the Mid-Point?  I’ve got an ebook available that lays it all out as a story development model.  CLICK HERE to learn more.


Filed under Shutter Island Deconstruction

11 Responses to 7B) “Shutter Island” – The Part 2 Pinch Point and the Mid-Point

  1. Kelly

    Hello Larry.
    Read with interest the above post. Think I get it…
    Teddy’s nightmare is not the midpoint because it doesn’t shift him into warrior mode; its still expository planning/ wanderer mode. He has to begin the active hunt to start Part 3.
    On page 223 of the paperback, third line up from the bottom, T says “Let’s get out of here.” They end up staying, because of the guard at the top of the stairs yelling for help.
    Teddy has to stay to get the expository information from Noyce; he can’t go. Is this a device to kick up tension?
    Chuck leaves Teddy unattended in Ward C. At the time, this doesn’t seem untoward, but at the end…why? T is a criminally insane patient. Noyce wouldn’t speak freely to Teddy/Andrew in Chuck/Sheehan’s presence?
    Thanks for the dissection- very enjoyable.

  2. nancy

    Fascinating series. It’s interesting that you refer to Teddy as the hero. He is indeed the protagonist, but he is also evil, and yet you use the word, “hero.” Are you making the distinction that Andrew is evil and Teddy is heroic? Is he heroic because he is mustering up the courage to find himself? Lots of paradoxes here.

  3. @Nancy — you bring up a good point. I do use the word “hero” and “protagonist” interchangeably in this series, and especially with this story I see where that could be confusing.

    You also bring up the possibility of Teddy being a hero (although a dark brooding one) and Andrew being evil (also up for debate, given the moment that pushed him to do what he did… it was Dolores who killed his children, not him — more like “guilty by reason of insanity” if you ask me). This cuts to the heart of the story, as spoken by Teddy himself in last line of the movie (not in the book): ‘Is it better to live as an evil man or die as a good man?”

    Neither Teddy or Andrew is pure evil, and in context to this story, Teddy really is our hero, not only because he is the protagonist, but because he chooses (from within the depth of his insanity and guilt) to live as a good man as long as he can… and in the moment of choice, he chooses to die a gbod man, as well.

    Part of Lehane’s brilliance here is to place all of these issues into gray areas.

  4. To quote more precisely from the end of the movie: “Is it better to live as a monster than it is to die as a good man?”

  5. nancy

    Thanks, Larry. You’ve given me more to think about. In the end, Teddy makes a heroic choice, and you can tell the true nature of a man by the choices he makes. That’s usually where the theme comes out, isn’t it–when you learn which way the protagonist goes when he faces his biggest dilemma.

  6. @nancy — yep… that’s called “character arc,” and it’s a basic principle. Sometimes it isn’t quite as on the nose as it is in Shutter, but that’s good, it makes a great example for us. Thanks for contributing! More tonight.

  7. NEXT POST in this series — goes up Thursday, for Feed distribution Friday morning. Please pardon the gap, real life slapped me upside the head today.


  8. Hmm, I never really get the feeling that Teddy is “evil.” I’m not sure that Andrew is evil either.

    The murder of Andrew’s children by his wife is what caused him to kill her. And, frankly, I don’t blame him. I could sympathize with Teddy/Andrew for having killed his wife and then retreating to a fantasy world so he didn’t have to remember what had happened to his family. I don’t think I’d want to remember that either.

    Great deconstruction so far! Dennis Lehane is definitely a masterful plotter and writer 🙂 I must read other books by him 🙂

    Looking forward to the next post.

  9. Pingback: 8) “Shutter Island” – The Part 3 Scenes

  10. Monica Rodriguez

    Larry, this is a TERRIFIC series. I wish I could participate more, but real life is keeping me away more than I’d wish lately. (Actually, I can read your posts on my smartphone, but I can’t see any comments, so I’m keeping up! Just can’t comment.) I’ve learned so much, and I’m even taking notes for my WIP.

    When I started the novel, I did some math, then marked the pages where the plot points should fall. I was amazed to see how on the mark Lehane was. That didn’t help me pick out the plot points perfectly, but I was close, except for the mid-point, which for some reason was about 20 pp. off. I thought it was that dream he had. I guess since he hadn’t changed his mission, it isn’t a plot point/midpoint.

    Thanks for this!

  11. nancy

    Kari, I would agree that Teddy represents the good half of a split personality. But Andrew is a violent man living in a violent world. Maybe it started during the war, maybe before, but his violence continues even on Shutter Island. But I like your question. Is this evil? I’m not sure now. Could be, but Lehane has done an excellent job manipulating this psychological stuff. Still thinking . . . .