Tag Archive: Midpoint

The Hero’s Emotional Midpoint

This week I’m honing the middle of my WIP, so it’s time to dust off the Archives and refresh my knowledge on a story’s midpoint…

Emotional MidPoint

Originally posted on Aug. 4, 2014. Updated and reposted on Sept. 5, 2016.

Awhile ago I wrote about Mapping the Mushy Middle of a story. This is a plot-centric approach to figuring out one’s story. However, story is a two-sided coin made up of plot and character. For every plot point there’s a corresponding character arc moment. So I blogged 3 Steps to Creating Character Change where I discuss the hero’s flaw as it presents itself in Act I, causes trouble for the hero in Act II, and is eventually overcome in Act III.

Yet even after figuring all that out, I still have trouble wrapping up my stories with a satisfying character transformation. In a story’s finale, not only is the plot resolved and the character flaw overcome, the hero must be changed. And I’ve found that overcoming a flaw isn’t always enough to change the hero.

BookCover-NovelFromMiddleWhat to do?! In times like this, I seek out books on writing craft. Many of these simply reword stuff I already know and aren’t very helpful, but I managed to find one that took a different but blissfully simple spin on Character Transformation:

WRITE YOUR NOVEL FROM THE MIDDLE by James Scott Bell.

It’s short and sweet, just 85 pages, and the premise is that once you know the Mirror Moment at the Midpoint, it will clarify what your story is about so you can figure out where the hero begins and how he changes by the end. I recommend reading the whole book (it’s only $3 for the e-book version), but I’ve summarized the gist of it here in 3 steps:

1) Figure out the hero’s death stakes.

No matter how strong the physical death stakes are (i.e. a murderer is literally trying to kill the hero), I think every story also needs psychological death stakes or emotional consequences. It’s easy to spot psychological death stakes in romance – if the lead doesn’t win the heart of his soul mate, he will be lonely and miserable for the rest of his life! His heart will metaphorically die! I find coming up with psychological stakes more difficult in thrillers (the physical death stakes are so high and exciting they can easily take over the whole story), but the ending will resonate much more if the hero has psychological stakes too. 

2) Create the hero’s Mirror Moment.

Bell explains two ways characters may reflect on their situation, one for plot-driven stories and one for character-driven stories. MIRROR 1: Hero looks in the mirror and considers the incredible odds against him (plot). MIRROR 2: Hero looks in mirror and muses on the person he is now and/or could become (character). (Note: Literal mirror not necessary.) But because I think all stories need plot and character, I say do both! After all, when considering the odds against, the best heroes would naturally lump their own shortcomings in with those odds.

This Mirror Moment complements the action that takes place at the Midpoint that I talked about in my Mushy Middle post. Basically, the Midpoint (be it a False Victory or a False Defeat) is powerless without your hero’s reaction to it.

3) Transform the hero.

The Mirror Moment hones in on who the hero thinks she is, and the Transformation is who she must become to win the Final Battle. Generally, these things are opposites.

After reading this book, I realize one of my problems is that I create heroes who are already prepared to win the Final Battle. Figuring out the psychological stakes and creating a Mirror Moment forces me to start with a hero who can’t possibly win and needs to change to do so.

What about you? Would a Midpoint Mirror Moment help you figure out your character’s journey? Deepen your story? Finish your book? I hope it helps me with mine!

 

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WOS ANNOUNCEMENT: We’re hosting a Princess Bride Blog Linkup Party the weekend of Sept. 24-25. This is your chance to share your thoughts and opinions on this classic tale. Plus, Robin is a HUGE fan and thought it would be fun to connect with other bloggers who love the book/movie. For all the details, click here.

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Mushy Middle Tips for #NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMoLogoHey NaNaWriMo writers! How’s it going? It’s mid-November and that means you’re deep in Act II and might be encountering some mushy middle difficulties. So here are some tips to get you through…

[Click on the titles to read the whole blog post.]

Mapping the Mushy Middle

The key to not getting lost in the middle of your novel is a map. Often we writers have an idea of what is the crisis at the end of Act II – the ALL IS LOST moment when it looks as if the hero will never achieve his goal – but how do you get your hero there? The answer is the MIDPOINT, which is the opposite of the ALL IS LOST moment. Before you drag your hero down into crisis, give him a big victory that makes it seem like he’ll achieve his goal. Every story is a will-he-or-won’t-he scenario. You can’t have failure without success, and vice versa.

3 Things to Keep Your Story on the Road (not the Goat Path)

So now you have the big plot points to prop up Act II, but it’s still a loooooong section and it’s getting a little boring. I have a solution for that: check every scene for conflict, stakes and change. Every single scene; no exceptions. Ask these questions:

  • What does the hero want that she can’t have?

  • Who is opposing the hero in this scene?

  • Is the hero doing something that has a consequence?

  • Does the reader feel the presence of the story’s overall stakes?

  • What is this scene’s emotional change?

  • What’s the story change?

(For more details on what those questions mean, read the full post.)

The Hero’s Emotional Midpoint

Maybe your Act II is falling flat because your character doesn’t have a strong enough reaction to what’s happening. To resolve this, figure out your hero’s death stakes, mirror moment and transformation. Every hero needs an inner journey to complement the outer journey. This post will help you figure those out and get you through Act II.

The Gooey Center of a Novel

Finally, Robin has some baking tips to firm up the middle of your story: add some spice, use a thickener, seat a new diner before the bowl, adjust the serving size, and don’t repackage the same old pudding. To find out how that advice applies to your book, click here.

Hopefully you found something there that helps get you through the messy middle section of your book. Good luck, NaNoers! You’re halfway done!

 

*Originally posted on Nov. 17, 2014 and re-posted on Nov. 16, 2015 because it’s #NaNoWriMo and I’m busy writing a novel! 🙂

 

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M is for Midpoint

BLAST_MIf you’re a plotter like Heather and I are, you should know about the importance of the midpoint event. It’s one of those important story structure tentpoles Heather will be telling you all about in her O is for Outlining post. The midpoint is when critical new information is introduced to the story and it will lead the character(s) to make the most important decision of the story, the big fight or flight moment. This is a punch in the guts scene and it usually (but not always) is a reversal that negatively impacts the protagonist in a major way. After the midpoint moment, the story always move off in a different direction.

3 Tips for The Midpoint

The midpoint event happens in the middle of the story. However, it’s unwise to stress the exact percentage point. If your midpoint event falls at the 42% mark don’t start adding unnecessary information to adjust the timing. Think of the midpoint event as a massive change in the direction of the protagonist’s situation, and not just as the perfect chronological center of your manuscript.

Mastering the midpoint is not for wimps. This is a great time to make your beloved protagonist suffer. This event should set up not only the climax of your story, but become the tipping point for the big emotional growth the protagonist will undergo as part of their character arc. Some writers consider the first half of a novel the discovery and reaction phase, when the characters are asking questions and figuring out the problems. After the midpoint shift the novel moves into an action and attack phase, when the characters are formulating plans and taking steps to accomplish their revised end goal. A story without a true midpoint event might be maintaining the same story trajectory. Even if there is an escalation of conflict, without a midpoint event there is a strong likelihood the characters are not changing! A properly crafted midpoint changes the character’s (and often the reader’s) perspective profoundly.

Planning helps you get this right. I think one of the big downsides to being a pantser is the risk of middle mush, when the center of the novel becomes a dead zone. It’s much easier to plot for a midpoint event, than it is to correct for a missing midpoint in a finished novel. If you’re a tried and true pantster, don’t despair, you may have created a crisis at the midpoint without realizing it. Using Heather’s editing post as a guide, start by creating the beat sheet for your story. Hopefully, you are almost there and if you just roll up your sleeves and do a bit of rewriting you’ll have a midpoint in no time.

2 Examples of Great Midpoints

A great midpoint is often packed with conflict! To some degree picking out the most critical elements can bit subjective, especially when the story uses flashbacks and flash-forwards to confuse the timeline. I’m picking films this time and my first pick is BACK TO THE FUTURE. Marty watches as his elder brother fades from a family photograph. With this midpoint event, Marty realizes his actions have disturbed the past. Unless he can reverse his mistakes and make his parents fall in love again, his life and that of his siblings will cease to exist.

My second pick is EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. Edward is tricked into breaking into a friend’s home and caught by the police. The other teens refuse to own up to their part in the deception. Edward makes the decision to protect Kim at all costs and refuses to turn them in. Overnight Edward goes from media darling to hated monster.

1 Link for More Help

Midpoint is easiest to study in volume. When you can see about 100 films with the midpoints careful documented for you, it will help you see the patterns. My link today is from The Script Lab: Five Plotpoint Breakdowns Find some films you like and put their list to the test.  Do you agree or disagree?

And in case you’re just dropping in now, here’s our April A to Z list thus far:

A is for Antagonist

B is for Backstory

C is for Character Change

D is for Dialogue

E is for External Conflict

F is for False Stakes

G is for Genre

H is for Heroes

I is for Internal Conflict

J is for Juxtaposition

K is for Kittens!

Coming up:

N is for Narrative

O is for Outlines

 

 

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4 Tips for Writing Reversals

One of the most important scenes in any book is the midpoint reversal. A reversal is an event that creates a fresh complication for the protagonist. It increases the stakes and sends the story off in a new direction. The reversal is the backbone of the classic three-act structure. If you don’t know what the three-act structure is you might want to start with this explanation.

MPW-61871The heist is one genre where reversals are not only important at the midpoint, but are abundant throughout the plot. Other types of stories may have a positive event triggering the inciting incident, but not the heist, it favors a negative one. In Ocean’s Twelve, the team has 14 days to return all the money from their first heist, and it’s money they don’t have. This incites them to plan another heist. Of course the heist plot will include the traditional midpoint reversal, and it often favors a third big reversal that leads into the climax.

 

Since every book needs at least that one reversal, I thought I would share my perspective on the qualities to consider when crafting a reversal.

  • Vary the timing and intensity:Original Cinema Quad Poster - Movie Film Posters

    A reversal’s timing (especially the midpoint one) needs to be spot on. If it comes too early, there isn’t much tension. If it comes too late, the story feels like it’s dragging. Using some smaller reversals between the three main transition points helps control the pacing. However, don’t use the same reversal twice unless the plot calls for it (Groundhog Day), and don’t set the mini reversals too close together. This might make the reader feel overwhelmed or emotionally exhausted. Mixing the type, intensity and placement of the reversals is tricky stuff. It’s best figured out through experimentation and lots of beta readers.

  • Team an information reversal with an action reversal for greater impact:

    When the reversal is information, like a dark secret, it usually thwarts the protagonist’s internal goals, and destabilizes them emotionally. An action reversal is an external complication, it might even injury the protagonist. Using both makes the situation seem more intense.

  • Don’t count on the element of surprise:

    If you can keep the reader guessing, that’s fantastic, and if you can blow them away with a shocking reversal twist, even better. However, any surprise twist is not easy. A writer must edge the story toward the reversal in such a way that once the twist is exposed, it seems logical. The reader might suspect the secret, but they shouldn’t know the secret before the reversal. This type of reversal also counts on book reviewers never spoiling the reversal. Once the twist leaks out these stories tend to fall apart.

  • Make the characters respond:

    The worse thing that can happen after a reversal is for the characters to act like they don’t care. The reversals must throw the characters. They shouldn’t nonchalantly accept the reversal as something they’ve always suspected unless the acceptance of that truth devastates them emotionally. A reversal needs to shake things up. It should create a crisis of faith, change the character’s master plan, or expose a hidden enemy. It should demand a reaction.

I am going to repeat this point: All reversals should increase the stakes and impact the goals of the protagonist in a meaningful way.

I’ve always been a fan of great reversals, and in a heist novel just about any type of reversal is fair game. You can reveal dark secrets, resurrect old feuds, and create teammates with mismatched agendas. As a writer, I love to change things up, and I thrive on putting my characters in uncomfortable situations. As a reader, nothing makes me happier than a reversal I didn’t see coming.

For more on the reversal:
http://blog.janicehardy.com/2010/12/golden-oldie-moping-in-middle-dealing.html

http://www.writersstore.com/plot-reversals-shown-in-scene/

http://writerunboxed.com/2011/11/02/reversals/

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