The following is the 6th installment of our series on story structure. Prior posts are available under the Story Structure Series tab in the Categories menu.
#6 – Wrapping Your Head Around the Mid-Point Milestone
A funny thing happened on the way to the ending of the story. Everything changed. Right in the middle of it, in fact. A big fat unexpected twist.
It’s called the Mid-Point, and it’s one of the major milestones in story architecture.
The Mid-Point is easily defined and an extremely flexible tool to use. In fact, that’s its undoing for newer writers and those who don’t write from a context of solid story architecture – it’s too easy. Which makes it easy to skip altogether.
Here’s the Mid-Point defined: new information that enters the story squarely in the middle of it, that changes the contextual experience and understanding of either the reader, the hero, or both.
Before the Mid-Point both the hero and the reader experience the story with limited awareness of the real truth behind what’s going on. Because it reveals significant new information, everything after the Mid-Point carries new weight and dramatic tension.
Plot Points vs. Mid-Points
Like the two Plot Points, the Mid-Point can be what appears to be a simple plot twist. And because the use of plot twists isn’t restricted to the Plot Points and the Mid-Point – in other words, these three places are not the only opportunities to toss in a plot twist – is it often undervalued and not recognized as the major milestone that it is.
Also like Plot Points, it can be either a sludge hammer to the reader’s head, or a subtle whisper that seems to have little significance at the time.
But also like the two Plot Points, it needs to be there, squarely in the middle of the story. No matter how many other plot twists you have in place. You gotta give us a Mid-Point context shift.
Think of the First Plot Point, the Mid-Point and the Second Plot Point (which we haven’t covered yet) as three thick poles that hold up the tent of your story. Miss any one and the thing is lopsided, susceptible to blowing over in a stiff wind and unable to support the weight of the narrative canvas.
The best way to understand the Mid-Point and how it differs from the Plot Points other than location, is to think of it as the parting of the curtain. It allows either the hero, the reader, or both, to peek behind the curtain of what’s been going on, seeing for the first time what’s at hand, who is pulling the strings, and what it all really means.
It may not change the story, per se, but it does change the hero’s and/or the reader’s understanding of what’s been going on. Because if you’ve done your job thus far, chances are neither really knows the whole picture.
If the hero is privy to the new information, though, it will certainly change their course of action. Remember, the difference between Parts 2 and 3 is the hero evolves from response mode into attack mode, and the new information gained at the Mid-Point is often the catalyst for that change.
In the book and movie Coma by Robin Cook, the hero was running around trying to determine who is killing off patients in her hospital, making it look like routine surgeries gone south, for the purpose of selling their organs on the black market. Terrifying. In Part 2 of the story she has brought her superiors in the hunt, hoping for their support. After all, it’s their hospital.
Meanwhile, someone is trying to kill her to stop her from discovering the truth. At the Mid-Point, we pull back the curtain to reveal – to the reader only, not her – that the people behind it all are, in fact, her superiors at the hospital. Everyone is in on it but her.
Meanwhile, she continues to confide in her boss in the belief she has an ally, when in fact she’s handing the bad guys everything they need to know to eliminate her.
Later she also learns who is behind it all, but that’s actually the Second Plot Point of this story. At the Mid-Point the curtain parts only for the reader.
Another example, this one from a love story, and generic: two people are planning on getting married. At the First Plot Point the girl confesses to the guy she’s been having doubts and wants to put the whole thing on hold. Everything changes, the hero suddenly has a new need and quest… a classic FPP.
Then, in the response that is Part 2, the guy tries to find out what’s wrong and up his game. By the book story architecture so far.
Then, at the Mid-Point, the curtain parts. He finds out something that changes the context of his understanding, and thus informs his ensuing attack on the problem in Part 3. He finds out she’s been seeing another guy on the side.
Same story, higher tension, more urgent stakes, with a powerful new context for both the hero and the reader.
It’s almost impossible to change context for the hero and not the reader, but like I said, changing it for the reader before it changes for hero is a great way to really crank the tension in your story.
Either way, the Mid-Point kicks your story into a higher gear.
Tomorrow’s post: #7 – the Part 3 Attack.