In preparation for Schism becoming a featured story on Wattpad on July 18, I’ve been releasing a chapter every day and hit a milestone today…Chapter 25…the middle of the book.
And posting that chapter got me to thinking about the most elusive and misunderstood element in the world of structure, the midpoint.
While we’ve been working with three act structure for books, movies and plays for as long as we can remember (yes, some might bring up alternative forms, but we’re still talking beginning, middle and end that make up three acts), the poor midpoint is often completely overlooked.
And, when we are focused on this three act structure that has a clear end of the beginning (plot point 1) and a clear beginning of the end (plot point 2) in our stories, it’s understandable why the middle gets little attention. But…this is something that’s also really dangerous.
Because, that neglected middle of the story isn’t just the half-way point in the behemoth of act 2, it’s also a stumbling point that nails almost every writer. It’s the brick wall that most people think of as Writer’s Block.
Go find out. Ask any writer who is stuck or has stopped working on a book or story and they’ll say they “got about half-way done” before they got blocked or ran out of ideas, or just got stumped. It’s that big of a deal…and yet no one talks about it!
Part of the problem is that the father of modern story structure, the late Syd Field, didn’t talk about it much, and not in the clear terms that he laid out the two main plot points. Instead, he said the midpoint should be a reversal of fortune for the protagonist.
Look elsewhere and it gets even foggier…other story structure theories talk about the midpoint as a First Culmination or something that is either similar to OR the opposite of the ending of the story.
Wow. That’s helpful, isn’t it?
But there is a fundamental truth here, beneath all the disagreeing theories. The truth about the midpoint is that it doesn’t have to be just ONE thing, but it had better be SOMETHING.
What I mean by this is that you don’t have to follow any particular dogma about the midpoint. There doesn’t have to be a reversal of fortune, it doesn’t have to foreshadow the ending or provide contrast to it. But you had better make sure that something is happening at the midpoint. Why? Because you need to make sure that something is happening at EVERY point in your story. If not, then you are on the fast track toward boring, and no one wants that.
So, if the midpoint isn’t any one thing in particular, how can we keep it from becoming the Writer’s Block quagmire that it is?
The answer is one simple, pain in the butt word…planning.
You see, most writers don’t realize that when they sit down with their latest idea, they don’t really have the full story yet. They have a great beginning and probably a mind-blowing ending, but these two things don’t have enough oomph to carry a story all the way through the wilderness of act 2, which generally takes up 50% of a novel or script. Instead, they have enough action and problems that are sparked by the story’s opening to get about half way through. Then, they run out of steam, get stumped and the second half of act 2 falls stays stuck in limbo.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. All the writer has to do is jot down the rough points of the story before beginning to see the giant hole that appears after the midpoint. Armed with that knowledge, any writer with enough patience can dig into the story and figure out what interesting actions have to take place to get from the midpoint to the end of act 2.
Best of luck to you all in your writing, and don’t let the midpoint get you down!