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!