There are many times in life where you encounter the biggest slog in the middle of something. Take a school year, for instance. This excerpt is being released at the tail end of January, a point where spring break is barely visible on the horizon and summertime only a dream. For many high schoolers, especially seniors, this time is often marked by drowsiness and a severe lack of enthusiasm. Grades slip, tardies are handed out more regularly, unexcused absences become the norm. By late March, however, the slump ends for many as exam season comes into focus, giving them a renewed sense of purpose, a “climax” if you will.
The point of this lengthy intro was, in essence, to explain the main reason why many aspiring authors never complete their dream novel. While there are compulsory education laws, no truancy officers are going to come knocking down your door if you quit halfway through Chapter 12 of your sci-fi romance epic. At a certain point for many unprepared writers, they grow tired of their story as weeks turn to months, and they begin to question what the purpose of it all was. Without a clear roadmap for where they want to go, and things growing more and more aimless by the day, they eventually shelve their manuscript in the attic and move on to “bigger and better things.”
Even with experienced writers, the problem of the mid-novel slog never truly goes away and often plagues the first drafts of even the most acclaimed novelists. Many say that you should go into your novel with at least two events fully formed: inciting incident and climax. I would add a third event to that list: the midpoint.
The midpoint, as defined by mathematical terminology, is the “exact middle” of something. This is also true in story structure. Traditionally, the midpoint takes place in the middle of the second act of the story. It marks the moment where the protagonist goes from a reactionary to an active character. Instead of things happening to the character, he or she finally decides to take matters into their own hands and fight their antagonist head-on.
Midpoints are not sudden left-turns out of nowhere, of course. As with all parts of the story, it should make sense considering the sum of all previous events. At the same time, however, it must be a significant departure from the first half of the story, and this is because the protagonist can no longer have the option to act defensively. Whether it’s the capture of someone they love, a death of a close friend, or even something as simple as a phone call, the midpoint scene marks that shift. It is the scene that any reader could point to and say, with complete certainty, that this is where the protagonist realizes that they must “attack” in order to achieve their goal, whether it be spiritual or physical.
For a real-world example, take the US’s involvement in World War 2. For the first couple years of the war, while not directly involved in the confrontation, they sided with the Allied Powers by providing them resources and condemning the actions of the Axis Powers. At this point, they were simply reacting to the war and the evil practices of Germany and Japan. However, this changed on December 7th, 1941, when Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese. With such a direct confrontation, the US had no choice but to take action and join the war. In this case, the bombing of Pearl Harbor would be considered a midpoint in the story of the US’s involvement in World War 2.
The midpoint is one of the toughest aspects of story structure to get right, but it is the linchpin that binds every great novel together. Learning how to perfect a midpoint early on is a key skill for any aspiring writer. Once you can successfully mark this transition, you will have a more compelling narrative, a more interesting protagonist, and a more captivating story.
Do you have specific questions about midpoint that weren't answered in this section? Leave a comment down below and the author of this post will answer it when our next entry is posted. Note: Questions posted after 2/12 may not be answered.