Tag Archives: mid-point

Story Maps

Map

Mapping the Creative Process:

In looking at the writing process it is often helpful to have a snapshot or map of the lay of the land in mind. Below is one such map. (For a detailed definition of the listed terms, kindly consult the archived posts on this site.)

The Map

Most stories come from the generation of multiple ideas, ideas which are filtered and distilled down to a core of sufficient worth. In The Matrix the core idea is “What if the world we take to be real is an illusion?”

But an idea without a story is impotent. This is where the story concept comes in, followed by background and setting, which help the writer determine the genre.

At this point, log-lines and the one-liner help to focus the story concept and produce a working title.

The next stage involves a large and powerful leap—the synopsis. In writing the synopsis one determines and explores the main character and supporting cast— the backstory, biography, character traits, motivation, need vs want, goal and transformational arcs, where appropriate. Simultaneously, one builds a plot inflected by structureinciting incident, pinches, turning points, mid point, climax and resolution.

Now the writer is ready to identify and create possible subplots, central conflicts, obstacles to the story goal, suspense, pace, central imagery, and emotions.

That done, the writer is ready to create the treatment, followed by the step-outline, before turning to that all-important, but malleable first draft. It is here that dialogue comes to the fore, dialogue that ought to be authentic, purposeful and born out of the character’s already-defined traits.

By the end of the obligatory or climactic scene, the writer has exposed the main theme of the story—the winner of the battle carries the theme. In The Matrix, for example, human instinct and heart trump artificial intelligence.

Of course, the first draft is the first of several, as discussed in previous posts, but it does, at least, represent the first exposure of one’s story to the cold light of day.

Summary

Keeping a map of the overall creative process in mind is often helpful in supporting the writing of the first draft of a story. This post names the components of one such map.

Where’s the Mid-Point in your Story?

In story-telling, as in so many things, the mid-point is a special moment in a journey – the moment in which one considers what has gone before and what is to follow. It is a moment of evaluation and of reflection. Have things gone according to plan? Do I continue on this path, turn back, or veer off in a different direction? Are my body and spirit up to meeting the challenges that lie ahead?

In my classes on screenwriting, I devote quite a bit of time to this structural gem. I’m in good company. Screenwriting gurus such as Syd Field, Robert Mackee, Michael Hague, Linda Seger, and Stanley D. Williams, likewise emphasize the importance of the mid-point within the overall story structure. Williams, in his book, The Moral Premise, refers to it as “the moment of grace”, the point in which the protagonist is given the opportunity to accept or reject an underlying truth about herself, and, therefore, to gain insight about her current predicament. Since action flows from a character’s psychological, spiritual, and emotional motivation, the mid-point lays the foundation for structuring the protagonist’s future actions, based on this moment of illumination.

Although the mid-point is one of many structural devices at our disposal (the inciting incident, the first and second turning points, and the climax, are others), I consider it especially important since it not only allows for the integration of the first and second parts of the outer journey, but also ties in the inner journey to the outer journey more tightly than would otherwise have been possible. I shall be discussing each separate strand in more detail in future blogs, but for the moment we are reminded that the inner journey describes a character’s beliefs, intentions and motivations — who the character is — while the outer journey describes action the character initiates in order to reach her goal, precisely because of who she is. In this sense, the outer journey is a metaphor for the inner one — the invisible life made visible.

The use of the mid-point in Braveheart

In the film Braveheart, for example, William Wallace, played by Mel Gibson, goes from a man who is willing to compromise liberty in order to raise a family and be allowed to farm in peace, to a man who embraces the challenge of winning Scotland’s freedom by leading his nation to war. The transforming event is arguably the moment in which Wallace is knighted. In accepting the knighthood (outer journey) Wallace reaffirms the traits of courage, self-sacrifice, and virtue (inner journey) that go with the role that was always inherent in him. The bestowing of the knighthood, which occurs half-way through the film, forms a link between the old and the new Wallace, and provides the dramatic context for the story in general.

Structuring the mid-point

In structuring your mid-point, begin by asking the following questions:

1. What does the protagonist not know about herself and her predicament before the “moment of grace”?
2. What incident/obstacle best allows for the moment of illumination to burst through?
3. Does the protagonist use this new insight to initiate new action that essentially differs from previous action?
4. Or, does the protagonist reject the moment — as in Tragedy?
5. Is the end of the story an inevitable consequence of actions flowing from the moment of illumination?

In Summary

A well constructed mid-point aligns your protagonist’s transformational arc to a significant outer event. As an inner journey mechanism, it is the moment in which the protagonist allows herself to grasp or let slip the opportunity for self-illumination. As a manifestation of the outer journey, it finds expression in a bold and significant act, which differs essentially from anything that has gone before. A masterful use of the mid-point in your stories will greatly improve the way your characters act and grow as they strive to achieve their goals. Enjoy the journey!