MIDPOINT - the tentpole of your book or script!
The MIDPOINT is one of the most important scenes or sequences in any book or film: a major shift in the dynamics of the story.
All of the first half of Act II of your book or script is leading up to the crucial Midpoint (around page 60 in a movie or script, around page 200 in a 400-page book).
Something huge is revealed
Something goes disastrously wrong
Someone close to the hero/ine dies, intensifying their commitment (what I call the Now It’s Personal scene… imagine Clint Eastwood or Samuel L. Jackson growling the line)
Often the whole emotional dynamic between characters changes with what Hollywood calls Sex at Sixty (that’s at 60 minutes, not 60 years!)
You also might hear the Midpoint called the MOMENT OF COMMITMENT or the POINT OF NO RETURN or NO TURNING BACK: the hero/ine commits irrevocably to the action.
I find it helpful to look at it as the BRIDGE between Act II: Part 1 and Act II: Part 2 (and once you cross that bridge, you can’t go back)!
The Midpoint can often be a huge defeat, which requires a recalculation and NEW PLAN or a CHANGE IN PLAN. It’s a game-changer, and it locks the hero/ine even more inevitably into the story.
Sometimes a TICKING CLOCK is introduced at the Midpoint: a specific time limit before something big happens. Like, the killer abducts a new victim and we know he kills his victims three days after he abducts them. (Silence of the Lambs). Or a couple has three days to learn everything about each other in order to pass an immigration test (The Proposal). (Note: those particular clocks are introduced earlier than the Midpoints of those movies.)
A clock is a great way to speed up the action and increase the urgency of your story.
You will often see a major LOCATION CHANGE at the Midpoint, into an arena that presents new and daunting challenges to the hero/ine and Team.
And just to further drive its importance home, the Midpoint will often be one of the most memorable visual SETPIECES of the story. In a movie, the filmmakers show off their expertise with a special effects sequence (as in How to Train Your Dragon and the first Harry Potter), or a big action scene (Jaws), or in breathtaking psychological cat-and-mouse dialogue between unforgettable characters (in The Silence of the Lambs). It might be a sex scene or a comedy scene, or both in a romantic comedy. Whatever the Midpoint is, it is most likely going to be specific to the PROMISE OF THE GENRE.
And I strongly encourage authors to pay as much attention to your Midpoint as filmmakers do to theirs.
A good way to go about this is:
Look at your story as being divided into two distinct halves.
First, I want you to think about this. The dynamic of the Midpoint has been around since the beginning of theater—that is, for thousands of years! Many if not most plays have one intermission about halfway through the play. And we’ve already discussed this fact about intermissions: the playwright has to climax that first half with a CLIFFHANGER: a scene so powerful, and a question so intriguing, that the audience will actually come back into the theater after knocking a few drinks back in the lobby. Right?
(Read more about this structural dynamic.)
So— imagine that there is going to be an intermission halfway through your book.
What is the cliffhanger that’s going to bring your readers back to your story?
And second: I’ll repeat something I said in the last post and video, because I really want this to sink in.
It is very, very often true that in Act II, Part 1, THE HERO/INE IS WINNING. Then something happens at the MIDPOINT that changes everything, and things go quickly downhill from there, as suddenly in Act II, Part 2 THE HERO/INE STARTS TO LOSE. And lose big!
So while the first half of your book will be energetic and forward-moving, the second half more often looks like a disastrous spiral down into chaos and darkness (even if the chaos is comic). It’s a difference of day and night, yang and yin. And at some point everything will grind to - or crash to - a halt (called the ALL IS LOST SCENE or BLACK MOMENT).
There are exceptions, and we’ll talk about that as we move into the third quarter of your story—Elements of Act II: Part 2.
But do you see how just that pattern: first half winning, second half losing— gives you a roadmap to your long and terrifying second act?
I want to lock this concept in for you. The best way to do it is take at least three of the movies on your Master List, identify the Midpoint of each, and then really look at everything that the storytellers are doing to create that sense of the whole game changing.
It’s really worth taking a day or two to do this!
Read on for some specific examples!
Or read more in the workbooks, Chapters 13-14, 17, 19, and in each full Story Breakdown:
Stealing Hollywood ebook, $4.99, also available as print workbook
Writing Love ebook, $2.99