Maximise the Midpoint at the Core

Maximise the midpoint at the coreHow do you maximise the midpoint at the core of your story?

According to writing coach Abigail Perry, the midpoint brings the ‘A’ story external plot together with the ‘B’ story internal character arc. Bringing these together raises the stakes and tells us what the story is really about.

We’ve looked at the ‘messy middle’ before. Also called the ‘middle muddle’ and the ‘meandering middle,’ this is often where the story drags it’s feet trying to find a path to the climax.

In the worst case, the middle becomes filler material, marking time until the triumphant finale. The trouble is, it’s so dull and lacking relevance, half the readers give up before said finale.

The middle isn’t just an excuse for more plot-stuff to happen:

  • where are the rising stakes?
  • why does it matter to the character?

Midpoint Magic

By definition, the midpoint occurs at the 50% mark in the story. Many coaches and guides refer to it as the Mirror Moment or the Mirror Stage. Here, the protagonist has to take a good hard look at themselves in the mirror (not literally, although many do!). It’s that questioning of role, identity and motivation that marks the midpoint.

Will the character chose to go in a new direction? Will they consciously seek out change?

Happening in the middle of the plot, this significant moment follows either:

  • a false triumph
  • a false failure

In either case, it triggers a moment of self-reflection or realisation. The external events and internal arc crash together. By this time the true stakes are revealed and the consequences foreshadowed.

Typically the protagonist moves from reactive to active in the midpoint moment. No longer reacting to events, they initiate action and move forward on their own terms. That doesn’t mean they automatically succeed. Rome wasn’t built in a day. There are trials or ‘fun and games’ to endure in the try-fail cycles to the end of the middle act. At least now the character is consciously trying.

Example: A Midpoint Shock

The mid-point event of Pride and Prejudice (yes, collect a sticker) is Darcy’s unexpected and poorly delivered marriage proposal. Lizzie rejects him, with all that entails for her family. Then she receives Darcy’s contrite letter and realises she misjudged him; and it’s too late.

My midpoint in The Ghost and the Vipers is the utterly shocking flashback of Jovanka’s near-abduction as a child. Her second sight lights up with the full horror of her ‘certain’ future and she is forced to her first act of violence in order to survive. It is the act of an adult mind in a child’s body. The Sight will dominate and shape her life into adulthood. It will lead her down paths she rejects, to decisions she abhors. But it also leads her to Varla as her helpmate – and to a path out of the horror.

In the early drafts, this scene was missing. the middle of the story didn’t work. I pulled it forward from book two, not for the shock value but because I needed to illuminate a key part of Jovanka’s character and backstory. In the mystical way she experiences past present and future, this moment is ever-present for her. Until this point, the reader isn’t sure why she believes in the abstract path she’s on. The midpoint makes it very real to the point of inducing mental illness.

This moment is a trigger for the character. Thereafter, Jovanka begins to challenge the path shown in her Sight. She also begins to challenge Varla; loyal, competent and selfless though he is. It takes her a while through those try-fail cycles to find her feet and discover who she is.

In The Seer and the Vipers, the midpoint shows a literal mirror version of Jovanka, an evil twin who takes a different path of murderous ambition. This path not taken reminds Jovanka of who she is and why she needs to fight on.

For the midpoint of The Sixth Messenger, Aeryn has to escape from the Brotherhood and the Hand, accepting the help of a former-friend turned enemy. Shocked and injured, Aeryn realises all of her skills, training and special talent cannot defeat the opponents allied against her. She can either disappear in defeat, or seek a path of reinvention. First she has to accept the help of a child, then the help of the caravan master. Aeryn can no longer isolate herself as ‘Sister Frost.’

There’s nothing unique or special in the external plot events, only in how the characters react and change in response. The midpoint presents a shift in perspective as well as raising the stakes.

5 thoughts on “Maximise the Midpoint at the Core”

  1. Terrill Itaque

    Constant failure can make the middle feel like it’s not going anywhere. You get stuck in the try-fail cycle and it ends up all fails, reader gets depressed and gives up.

  2. The midpoint reversal event comes in the middle of the second act and completely sideswipes the protagonist. That’s what the midpoint is supposed to do.

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