Midpoints: A Breakdown

A couple of months ago, I wrote a post about Inciting Incidents that seemed to be helpful for a lot of our readers at PubCrawl, and I’ve had a few requests to continue dissecting story beats. So I’ve decided to tackle the next one on my list: The Midpoint.

I am sort of making up my own story beats here, loosely cobbled together from Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat, K.M. Weiland’s website Helping Writers Become Authors, and our own PubCrawl alumna Janice Hardy’s Fiction University. I myself don’t actually adhere to story beats all that strictly when I’m drafting; I figure the beats out when I revise.

I know a lot of writers struggle with middles, but I’m actually not one of them. For me, the middle of the novel is simply an extension of the beginning, and in fact, I tend to think of my books more or less in halves: the beginning, and then the end. The point that delineates the beginning from the end is the midpoint.

First of all, let me say: there is no wrong way to write a novel. Write however works best for you. For me, my stories tend to naturally structure themselves into four acts, with three inflection points: Revelation (end of Act I), Realization (end of Act II), and Resolution (end of Act III). The Realization (end of Act II) generally tends to be my Midpoint.1

So what is the Midpoint, exactly? Why is it given such emphasis in all these story structure/plot books? I mean, a middle is just the boring bridge between the opening and the ending, right?

Personally, for me, the Midpoint is the moment of greatest change; in fact, I would argue it is the top of the mountain of your story arc. Everything builds up to it, and then everything unravels from it. The Midpoint is what the beginning of your novel is working towards and what the ending of your novel is working from. Because of this, I actually think the Midpoint of your novel is where your story reveals itself.

What do I mean by that? I mean that the sort of plot point/character development that is your Midpoint2 reveals the type of story you’re writing. The “point” of your book, as it were.

For example, in Pride & Prejudice, the Midpoint of the novel is when Darcy sends Lizzy a letter, explaining himself after she has turned down his offer of marriage. Until she reads his letter, Lizzy has been staunch in her prejudice against Mr. Darcy based on a bad first impression, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. Suddenly, she realizes she has interpreted all his actions incorrectly due to a mistaken pride in her own cleverness.

And there you have it, the entire point of Pride & Prejudice, as neatly summarized by the Midpoint.

The Midpoint is often referred to as a Midpoint Reversal, because there is often some sort of reversal of fortune or big twist or some other reveal that changes the entire context of the story (as in the case of Pride & Prejudice). However, not all Midpoints involve a reversal of some kind. For example, the Midpoint of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone3 is when Harry discovers just what Hogwarts has been protecting: the eponymous stone itself. And there you have it: the point of the first Harry Potter book.

All stories, regardless of how they’re structured, have Midpoints. They may not fall in the exact middle of your book, but they are in that neighborhood nonetheless. Without them, you have a “sagging middle” and, I would argue, no actual point to your story.

So there you have it: Midpoints! Are there any other story beats you guys would like for me to cover? Sound off in the comments!

  1. There are many, many, MANY ways to structure your novel. Traditionally, Western movies and screenplays are divided into three acts. Plays are often one or two acts. Tragedies can be five acts. Far Eastern narrative structure tends to fall into four acts.
  2. And to be honest, the Midpoint is the one of the few places in your manuscript where the plot point and character development should be the same thing.
  3. I HATE that the title was changed for the U.S. edition; it makes absolutely no sense to call it a “sorcerer’s stone” when a philosopher’s stone is a real thing.

4 Responses to Midpoints: A Breakdown

  1. lisa ciarfella Jan 23 2016 at 5:00 pm #

    great post here.
    I’ve been using Les Edgerton’s (well known crime fiction author/teacher) guides to writing fiction, and his beats are:

    Inciting incident; surface problem; overall story worthy problem, worthy of being resolved…

    Do these seem about right to you?? I think they kind of jibe with your structure here…

    Am in the throes of my first novel, and needing structure, so keep these coming!

    • JJ Jan 24 2016 at 9:00 am #

      I’m not familiar with Les Edgerton’s method, but as I stated above: there is no right or wrong way to write. 🙂 If Edgerton’s beats work for you, then I would stick with them.

      However, at heart, nearly all story structures have very similar beats; they’re simply called something different. Based on what you’ve typed here, I think the Midpoint might be analogous with “overall story worthy problem”, but then I again, I don’t Les Edgerton at all.

  2. Bernadette Feb 11 2016 at 6:34 pm #

    Seriously loving this! It’s a coincidence I’ve been currently reading Pride and Prejudice, and it makes such sense that when Elizabeth discovers the truth of Darcy’s feelings, that’s when everything comes together and falls apart. Midpoints look like an interesting way of rethinking how a novel is structured 🙂 Thanks!

  3. Gabriela Feb 19 2016 at 6:08 pm #

    I love this! Not only do you use two of my favorite go-to examples of all time, but I think the midpoint is so often overlooked in discussions of story structure, even though it’s probably the most important moment in the story.

    Lately I’ve been totally obsessing over story structure and how the same scene can fulfill two different purposes whether you look at a single book in a series or the series as a whole. Case-in-point: the climax of HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE (scene where Voldy comes back… sorry was that a spoiler?) actually functions as the midpoint for the entire Harry Potter series and pulls the whole series together. You also something similar in THE HUNGER GAMES, where the climax for book one (scene with the berries) is also the inciting incident for the trilogy as a whole (Katniss standing up to the Capitol).

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