After you drop some major conflict on your character at the first plot point that sets him off on his journey, more than likely, he will spend some time running away, wondering around trying to figure out what is going on, who is after him, and why. Now you are approaching the middle of the story and your character is ready to turn from reaction to action; welcome to the midpoint.

A funny thing happened on the way to the ending of the story.  Everything changed. ~ Larry Brooks

In the view of story structure, the midpoint is one of the three major milestones that hold your story together. In my previous post regarding the first plot point, I commented on how Larry Brooks described the three major milestones — first plot point, midpoint, and second plot point — as tent poles to your story. Move one or take one away and your story — or tent — will suffer.

In this post, we will cover:

  • What’s a midpoint
  • Where does it go in your story
  • Application points

What’s a midpoint?

A midpoint in the realm of story structure is the point where your character moves from reactionary to action. He makes the leap to start going after his problem instead of running from it. Don’t worry I will be giving examples of what this looks like so you can see it used properly.

Lord of the Rings example:

Frodo Baggins is in Rivendell at the council meeting to decide what needs to happen with the ring. After seeing all the fighting and complaining from the different guests, Frodo decides that he will take the ring to Mordor himself and throw it in Mount Doom.

As you can see in this above example, Frodo turns to action after spending all his time since leaving the Shire running from the ringwraiths. It wasn’t until the council meeting did he find out what the ring really was, who was after him, and what the cost was. Then with all that information, he decides that he will step up and take it to Mount Doom to destroy it.

Harry Potter example:

In the Philosopher’s Stone, — book one of the series — Harry, after seeing Voldemort drinking the unicorn’s blood, made the decision to protect the stone and not allow Voldemort to obtain it. He went from Harry the new shy wizard to Harry the protector.

The midpoint, if you boil it down, is a change in direction in your story or character or both. Your story was going along and BAM it changes. Your character was one way at the beginning of your story, then changes at the first plot point, then changes again at the midpoint.

All these changes and modifications to your character is providing character arc, so that by the time your character reaches the resolution it makes sense, it’s not a reach to believe he is doing what he is doing.

Another Harry Potter example:

Harry lives under the stairs (Hook); Harry finds out he is a wizard (First Plot Point); Harry decides to protect the Philosopher’s Stone (Midpoint).

Those small transitions to his character took place over the first 150 pages — roughly.

Take away from this part:

The midpoint changes the direction your character was going.

Where does the midpoint go?

If you said the middle, then you would be right. The midpoint goes in the middle of your story. Have you heard the term “sagging middle”? The middle is famous for being the part where the story begins to drag and feel stretched. Therefore, having a solid midpoint that shifts your characters direction carries a lot of weight with it and adds an element of interest back into your story.

The midpoint typically would sit at the 50% mark of your story — click here for rules on writing. For all those that didn’t click the link, here is a little secret — there are no rules. So when you see that the midpoint should sit at the 50% mark of your story, that should be considered a suggestion, and a strong one.

Think back to the tent analogy from earlier. Imagine the tent with its three poles holding it up. Now imagine if you took the pole in the middle and moved it to the left, toward the beginning. What happened? More than likely, if you had a good visual of the tent you saw the middle begin to sag where the pole left its position.

The same effect would happen if you moved it to the right, toward the end. Both ways the tent’s structural integrity is violated and the middle of the tent begins to sag.

Does it have to be exactly 50%?

Humor me and picture the tent again. Take the middle pole and move it slightly to the left or right. What happened? Now granted these are images in our minds, but probably not much happened. My point is this; the midpoint doesn’t have to be exactly 50% for it to work. It can be 48% or 52%, but it needs to be centered as best as possible so you don’t violate the story’s structural integrity.

Application Points

  • The midpoint is the exact center between the two states (Hook and Resolution). It is the point at which the characters begin moving from one state to the other.
  • The character moves from reaction to action
  • Try to place the midpoint as close to the center as you can to help prevent the sagging middle.

Here is one last example for the road:

Rocky is a down-and-out fighter making a few bucks fighting in local fights and breaking thumbs for a local gangster. Rocky’s luck changes however, when Apollo Creed the heavyweight-boxing champion of the world gives Rocky the chance to fight him for the title. With no manager, a new girlfriend, and his best friend turning on him, Rocky doesn’t train and becomes nervous about his chances, but one day Mick offers to be his manager and Rocky sets out on one of the best working out montages ever created.

At this point in the movie, Rocky stops complaining and going about this half-hearted and decides to do something about it. He goes from reactionary to the action. His training increases and he becomes motivated. In essence Rocky changes.

This post is part 4 in a series entitled Seven Points to Structure Your Story. You can find previous posts in this series below.

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