Story Structure Series: #6 — Wrapping Your Head Around the Mid-Point Milestone

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.

Mid-Point Examples

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.


Filed under Story Structure Series, Write better (tips and techniques)

19 Responses to Story Structure Series: #6 — Wrapping Your Head Around the Mid-Point Milestone

  1. I like the short piece Larry.
    It’s just as great.

  2. The main thing I want from any book or movie is to reach the end and be left with my jaw hanging. I want to be surprised at the end.

    Then I go back and when I notice the subtle hints that were left that I never picked up on… that’s when I knew it was REALLY GOOD.

    The mid point of an OK story is the time I usaully can pick out the ending peice by peice…who is going to die and what the BIG…secret is.

    But a great story leaves you hanging onto every word.

    Great post.

  3. Patrick Sullivan

    J.Morgan: Some interesting advice I saw once towards your point is “foreshadow anything important 3 times before the reveal” and that makes a lot of sense. When you go that route it gives enough different clues that, as you mention, on the reread it all makes sense, and possibly some clever readers might even spot it (making them feel good in the process, which if done well will be something they associate with your books in the future).

  4. Just as I was thinking I wish he would give a concrete example; this is starting to feel like geometry… ;( (I sucked at maths) you wowed me with the Coma example!

    I’m twitching to apply this to a story sometime. Thanks again!

    PS. A technical point, Larry. I save your posts to read together, but the feed titles don’t differentiate between them. The emails just have your blog’s tagline, so it makes filing them harder because they’re identical in the inbox. Next time you speak to your tech person, you could show them this great post by a friend of mine; folk have tried it out and written back to say how pleased they are with the results.

  5. Pingback: Story Structure « The Writing Land

  6. Pingback: Overview of Larry Brooks’s Story Structure » Jordan McCollum

  7. Pingback: Write Your Book < How To Self Publish A Book

  8. Pingback: Keeping the suspense in the middle of your structure » Jordan McCollum

  9. Pingback: Suspense fix: Arm the antagonist » Jordan McCollum

  10. Pingback: 8 “Moments” You Absolutely Need to Deliver to Your Readers… And One That You Should Hope For

  11. Pingback: Blueprint of a Novel: The Middle « Resplendence

  12. Larry,
    In regards to the following:
    “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.”

    Can you give an example on what this looks like when the story is written in 1st person?


  13. @Bonni — a great example of the narrative creating a context shift for the reader BEFORE the hero experiences the shift is Nelson Demille’s two novels, “The Lion’s Game” and “The Lion” (the sequel). It’s more frequent than we realize (did it myself in my most successful book), and once you see it you’ll never miss it. Wishing you great success! L.

  14. Pingback: Seven Point Story Structure: The Midpoint : A Writer's Journey

  15. Pingback: Baker’s Dozen | elmowrites

  16. Pingback: ►Story Structure or, “What I learned from the Three Little Pigs” | Daniel Ionson

  17. Pingback: Seven Point Story Structure: The Midpoint | Writers to Authors

  18. Pingback: The Moment In Your Story That Changes Everything