Story Structure: the Midpoint

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We made it, everyone! Last week, we talked about the Realization, and now we’ve finally reached the Midpoint, one of the most pivotal beats in three act story structure.

Let’s get into this!

Where Does the Midpoint Belong?

As its name suggests, the Midpoint belongs in the middle of the story, at roughly the 50% mark.

What is the Midpoint?

The Midpoint is a turning point. It’s usually when the protagonist shifts from reaction to action. They’re looking to take concrete steps to overcome the main conflict of the story. They’re close to fully understanding and accepting the “truth” they need to learn, but they’re not quite there yet (that’s important for later). Typically, the Midpoint is a plot twist or a big plot moment.

The Midpoint is the Turn

Everything that happened to the protagonist prior to this moment has been preparation for the choice they will make at the Midpoint. If they have been running away from the main conflict, the Midpoint is when they decide to stand their ground.

In some ways, the whole story changes gears after the Midpoint. It should be a stand-out moment. Often, the Midpoint presents itself as a battle, a dramatic party, a relational issue, a declaration of love, etc. Whatever your Midpoint is, it should be enough to push your protagonist to make another choice that takes them out of their comfort zone.

(SPOILERS FOR STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE AHEAD)

This movie’s Midpoint comes when Luke, Obi-Wan, and Han are captured by the Empire. They manage to avoid escape and disguise themselves as Stormtroopers. Then they discover that Leia is a prisoner on the Death Star, and Luke convinces Han to help him rescue her. This is Luke’s first “hero moment”, and it’s also when he shifts gears from farm boy to rebel.

(END SPOILERS)

The Midpoint is a big moment for your protagonist. They’re “turning” and going in a new direction that will put them on an irrevocable path to the Third Plot Point.

The Midpoint is Action

Up to this point, the protagonist has probably been reacting to the things that happen to them. They’ve been growing as a person, but they haven’t taken a big step in their character arc since the First Plot Point. If the First Plot Point is them becoming an “adventurer” (not in a sense that only applies to adventure stories), then the Midpoint is often them becoming an “action hero” (again, not in a sense that only applies to action stories). They’re going to form a concrete goal and take steps to accomplish it. What this looks like will depend on your genre and plot.

(SPOILERS FOR TREASURE PLANET AHEAD)

This story’s Midpoint comes when Jim discovers that Silver is the leader of a band of pirates who have infiltrated Captan Amelia’s ship. After the pirates mutiny, Jim has a clear goal: Escape with the captain and Dr. Doppler and find a way to stay alive.

This is Jim’s shift from reaction to action. He was a kid, but after Silver’s betrayal, he’s forced to become an adult and figure out how to protect his friends.

(END SPOILERS)

The Midpoint is a transformation in many ways. Everything your protagonist learned earlier in the story comes into play to help them become an “action hero” at the Midpoint.

The Midpoint is Understanding

The protagonist often gains new understanding in the Midpoint.

On a plot level, they sometimes come to understand the main conflict of the story better, and they are then able to make more informed responses to it (action hero mode!).

On a character level, they usually come closer to taking hold of the “truth” they need to understand in order to complete their character arc. They won’t be ready for the climax, but they’ll be on their way to being ready.

(SPOILERS FOR TANGLED AHEAD)

In Tangled’s Midpoint, Rapunzel and Flynn are trapped in a flooding cave. As they realize they’re about to die, they take a risk and open up to each other. Rapunzel tells Flynn about her magical hair, and he tells her his real name and talks about his childhood.

On a plot level, this moment is important because it makes Flynn and Rapunzel trust each other more and moves their love story forward. It also reinforces both of their desires to live and achieve their dreams (main conflict).

On a character level, their Midpoint brings them closer to their respective “truths”. Rapunzel’s desire to experience life deepens, and she starts to think she is strong enough to handle the outside world. Flynn realizes he can be a better man, and Rapunzel’s affection for “Eugene Fitzherbert” helps him be confident enough to become that person again.

Neither of them are quite ready to face what’s to come, but they’re much closer than they were before.

(END SPOILERS)

So… What is the Midpoint?

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