How to Strengthen the Middle Part of a Story

In The Screenwriters Workbook, Syd Field reminds us that the second act of your story, being the longest and the one containing the most conflict and complications, needs special handling. Here, novice, or even experienced writers, are most likely to wonder off track and end up at a dead end. The midpoint, or the moment of illumination, as we’ve discussed in an earlier post, is that moment in which the Protagonist receives new information that allows him or her to proceed from a changed moral or ethical perspective to the second turning point. In the first half, the Protagonist pursues the goal based on negative traits. In the second half, he or she realizes that the best way forward is through the activation of positive traits inherent in his or her personality.

The Pinch

Dividing the second act into two sections allows for additional structure on either side of the midpoint. Field calls this structure the “pinch” in that it brings together the threads in each half in a way which keeps the story on track by driving the action on to the mid-point, and plot point II.

An Unmarried Woman

In An Unmarried Woman, the young, unhappily married Erica (Jill Clayburgh), enrolls in art classes and has an affair with her teacher, Saul. Against her will, she falls in love with him, then discovers she is pregnant. Torn between her lover and her husband, she decides to leave both and raise her child on her own.

The inciting incident occurs when Erica’s husband, Martin (Michael Murphy), asks Erica for a divorce. This leads to the first turning point when she begins art classes and meets Saul (Alan Bates). Pinch I marks the start of her relationship with her teacher. The mid-point occurs when she finally has sex with him. Pinch II describes her realization that she has fallen in love with Saul, while plot point II occurs when she discovers that she is pregnant with his child. These events clearly illustrate the strong relationship that both pinches share with the first and second tuning points respectively — often one of cause and effect: in An Unmarried Woman, Erica’s sexual relationship with Saul is a direct result of her starting art classes (tuning point I), while her realizing that she is pregnant with his child (turning point II) follows from her having fallen in love with him (pinch II). Including these structural entities not only ensures consistency in narrative incident, but also ensures that you have something to aim for as you seek to structure the longest part of your story.

In Summary

Pinches occur on either side of the mid-point. Each is strongly related to the turning point nearest to it, helping to ensure narrative consistency.

8 thoughts on “How to Strengthen the Middle Part of a Story

  1. Pingback: Understanding Scene Construction | Stavros Halvatzis

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  3. Russ Welsh

    Can a story drastically jump back in time at the midpoint to allow the activation of the positive traits over the negative ones? I have decided to write a scene, which does not (at first) appear as a flashback, back as it leads onto some other things that happened earlier in my screenplay it begins to present itself as one. As in, Bob (who is only shown as a minor character to one of the three protagonists in Name of Nowhere) is the catalyst of the positive traits. He buys this new import from a florist, thinking it would make for a great drug if ground up and made into pill form – a natural alternative to synthetics. He sells it to Calibre who, after taking it, refuses to take it again. It does nothing. But the “cold turkey” method of giving it up causes hallucinations and that is how Calibre ends up in his painted world.

    1. Stavros Halvatzis Post author

      Your story sounds like it belongs to the multiform category — a category which was the subject of my PhD thesis. Multiform stories can indeed jump back and forth in time, and indeed, between different realities, in which case, the mid-point can be accessed at any point in the presented sequence (if that makes any sense).

      1. Russ Welsh

        It makes perfect sense to me. And I’m still overwhelmed by how much you enjoyed my screenplay (what I submitted of it). I’ll send you a copy of the finished product when I’m done. Definitely gonna keep you in the loop. I value any and all criticism I get from you.

  4. Stavros Halvatzis Post author

    Thanks for the comment, Susie. I certainly find using these structural principles helpful in my own work and I am glad you feel the same way..

  5. Susie Lindau

    I am the proverbial sponge and love your excellent advice since I am currently at the second pinch. I am only in the rough draft phase and will remember this as I go into the edit and fleshing out of the story. It’s my first book……
    Thanks for sharing!


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