The Two Halves of the Midpoint

The Midpoint is unique among the major structural turning points. Not only is it made up of its own two individual halves—working together to create a scene arc—but the Midpoint also marks the dividing line between the two halves of the entire story arc.

As we explored last year in our series on chiastic structure (or how the structural beats in the two halves of the story mirror one another—e.g., the link between Inciting Event and Climactic Moment), the Midpoint is also unique in that it stands alone at the “top of the circle” with no partner or mirroring beat. Rather, the Midpoint notably offers what James Scott Bell so brilliantly calls “the Mirror Moment.” This is a moment within the story, usually inherent within the thematically all-important Moment of Truth, in which the characters are given the opportunity to see truths about themselves “as if in a mirror.”

What the Midpoint (or Second Plot Point) does have in common with all the other major structural beats is that it, too, is comprised of two halves. This is, of course, because the Midpoint is a scene (or sequence of scenes) in its own right, offering a complete scene structure and emotional arc.

In the previous two posts, we started talking about how each of the major structural turning points is made up of two intrinsic parts which together serve to “reverse the value” of the scene by moving the character through some progression of Goal to Disaster. In all the beats, both halves are important for properly turning the plot.

The beats we’re exploring are:

What Is the Midpoint?

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As the centerpiece of the story, the Midpoint in many ways encapsulates the entire point of the story. Plot, character arc, and theme all coincide here (more obviously even than usual) to provide the protagonist with at least the opportunity to see the world in a different and potentially more functional way than previously. Depending on what the character realizes and accepts at the Midpoint, he should be able to use this new knowledge to move onward more effectively toward the plot goal.

This is why the Midpoint structurally marks the transition from the “reaction” of the First Half of the Second Act (in which the character lacked sufficient understanding to combat the obstacles of the antagonistic force) to the “action” of the Second Half of the Second Act (in which the character uses the Midpoint’s revelations to aid in a more proactive approach to avoiding/defeating the antagonistic force and gaining the plot goal).

Although the story goes on and the conflict will not be definitively decided until the Climactic Moment, the Midpoint is really the moment that determines the protagonist’s fate. Whether or not the character “gets it” in the Midpoint will determine whether or not the resources for a climactic victory will be available come the end.

Recognizing the Arc Created by the Two Halves of the Midpoint

If your story is a mountain, then the Midpoint is the peak. When your protagonist reaches the Midpoint, she will stand with one foot on either side of the peak. In other words, the first half of the Midpoint takes place in the first half of the story and the second half of the Midpoint in the second half of the story. Like the First Plot Point, it can be viewed as a doorway through which the character must step.

As such, since we know the first half of the story features the protagonist in a “reactive” mode and the second half features an “active” mode, we can know these two halves must also define the Midpoint itself.

The Midpoint is usually a major set-piece scene in some way. In an action story, it will probably be a battle or some such. In a more relational story, it may be a dramatic confrontation. The protagonist will enter this set-piece scene lacking some crucial bit of information, which currently renders him “reactive.” He is trying in some way to score a major victory here, but because he lacks all the necessary information, even his greatest display of initiative ultimately remains reactive.

But the Midpoint itself will change all that by offering crucial new insights and information. Even though the Midpoint itself may be a categorical defeat for the protagonist, the information gained here means she can now sally forth into the second half of the story much better equipped to score victories in the future.

Intrinsically, the two halves of the Midpoint represent a coming together of the external and internal conflicts—and how each influences the success or failure of the other. The first half is that of a Plot Revelation (or reversal); the second half is that of the thematic Moment of Truth. In short, the first half offers paradigm-shifting new information, while the second half is about the new internal understandings that arise from this information. The character not only learns something in the outer world, but also discovers new knowledge within himself.

Let’s take a closer look.

The Plot Revelation

In “plot-driven” stories, the Plot Revelation will take center stage at the Midpoint. Sometimes it will even appear that the Plot Revelation is the Moment of Truth. Indeed, this may sometimes be the case, although only in stories that feature little to no character development or arc. It is also true that because the subsequent Moment of Truth is caused by the Plot Revelation, the two are intrinsically linked, sometimes to the point they seem one and the same.

However, from a structural and technical point of view, it is valuable to see their separate cause/effect, push/pull relationship.

Specifically, the Plot Revelation is information the protagonist learns about the external plot. This information may be told through dialogue, but due to the dramatic nature of the Midpoint, it is just as often information that is dramatized (e.g., a wife walks in on her husband having an affair).

Because of the “internal truth” nature of the linked Moment of Truth, the most effective approach is often to communicate the Plot Revelation to the protagonist “in a flash.” It lands in a way that is less about “teaching” the protagonist something new (although it certainly can) and more about “uncovering” the inner Truth that has been slowly consolidating for the protagonist over the course of her character arc so far.

Put another way, even if the events of the Midpoint are utterly unexpected and shocking, they still feel like a sensible progression. (From a craft point of view, foreshadowing in the first half of the story is, of course, the vital ingredient to conveying this feeling to readers.)

Basically, the Plot Revelation’s main job is providing the protagonist with the single most important bit of information about why his attempts to gain the plot goal have so far been less than effective. After all, he’s been trying all this time—why doesn’t he have it by now?

The Plot Revelation shows him what is holding him back. If he’s a scientist, this may be a mistake in his calculations. If he’s trying to make a relationship work, it may be his own (and his love interest’s) intrinsic fears of vulnerability, intimacy, and commitment. If he’s trying to catch the bad guy, the revelation may be about the bad guy’s true identity or motivation. Or if he’s simply trying to survive in a wilderness situation, the revelation may be about why he’s sure to die if he doesn’t change tactics and somehow escape.

The possibilities are vast and varied. Although the new information must be dramatic enough to turn the plot, the revelation itself can be conveyed with relative subtlety. In some movies, the Midpoint is as subtle as a shift of the protagonist’s expression while watching the sunset (although usually this only happens in “character-driven” stories in which the conflict is mainly internal and the emphasis is almost entirely on the Moment of Truth rather than the Plot Revelation).

The other important aspect of the Plot Revelation is a plot reversal. It is not enough for the protagonist to simply learn something new and experience a revelation. If the Midpoint is to properly move the plot, she must act upon it—she must change the story.

The Moment of Truth

If the Plot Revelation is something that essentially happens to or is given to the protagonist, the subsequent Moment of Truth is about the protagonist then taking ownership of that information and using it to manifest a significant change of perspective.

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In contrast to the Plot Revelation, which is about the external conflict, the Moment of Truth is specifically about the inner conflict—and therefore is more representative of progressive change in the character arc and theme.

Up to this point, the protagonist will have been operating from a less and less effective Lie-based mindset, in which he holds to some fundamental and increasingly dysfunctional misinformation about reality. Practically, this Lie is what has ultimately caused him to be less than successful in the outer plot (even though the Lie itself is not the specific information from the Plot Revelation about “how to defeat the antagonist”). His semi-failures up to this point have been teaching him a new and counteractive Truth.

It is the Moment of Truth, spurred by the events and information of the Plot Revelation, that suddenly brings this seed of Truth into full bloom. The character not only learns something important about where she is going wrong in the outer conflict, but she also recognizes, at least implicitly, the limited personal perspective that has ultimately led her to make these external mistakes.

If the character accepts this new perspective (as she will in a Positive-Change Arc), she will be able to move forward into more and more successful interactions with the external world.

However, don’t forget this is only the Midpoint of the story. Plenty of plot and character arc remains to happen. So although the character here realizes the essential Truth of his story, he does not yet realize or find himself capable of completely rejecting his previous misconception or Lie. And so his evolution will continue in the second half of the story, until the Third Act when he finally realizes that the Truth cannot be fully effective unless he is also willing to entirely reject the Lie—in short to die to the Lie and be reborn in the Truth (a painful process that should never be taken for granted even with comparatively “small” perspective shifts).

Together, the Plot Revelation and the Moment of Truth provide the necessary cause and effect to create massive change within the Midpoint. They also work in tandem to beautifully unify plot, character, and theme into a cohesive whole.

If you can make sure the Midpoint of your story features both of its important halves, you can be sure you’re taking full advantage of its deep potential for elevating your entire story.

***

Stay tuned: Next week, we will take a look at the two halves of the Third Plot Point: the False Victory and the Low Moment.

Previous Posts in This Series:

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Can you identify both the Plot Revelation and the Moment of Truth in your story? Tell me in the comments!

Click the “Play” button to Listen to Audio Version (or subscribe to the Helping Writers Become Authors podcast in Apple Podcast or Amazon Music).

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. I am very happy, because my mid-point seems on target. I was concerned that it was too spread out. My story has this big set-piece that involves a monster fight, but my character doesn’t actually undergo an internal change until two chapters later. I was spending way too much time going `is this quiet moment actually the midpoint? Because it’s not exactly a set-piece, that monster fight is the set-piece and triggers the change, but he doesn’t actually undergo a change until the quiet moment….’ It’s nice to know they can both be the midpoint.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It can be helpful to view the Midpoint (or any of the major structural moments) in terms of Action/Reaction, even if they span many scenes. Obviously, you don’t want too much time to pass between the halves, but it has to make sense within the timing of the story as well.

  2. Eric Troyer says

    Thanks Katie! While reading your post, I realized I that in my WIP I had been treating my Midpoint as a Plot Revelation and Mirror Moment as a single moment. But now I realize the Mirror Moment comes a little after the Plot Revelation. The Plot Revelation is such a shock that my protagonist has to take some time to absorb it before reacting to it (and while reacting to life-threatening events).

    So, thanks, you’re still making me think!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, sometimes the internal Moment of Truth can happen spontaneously in reaction to an external Plot Revelation. But often, the sheer momentousness of the Plot Revelation can require a little time for the character to realistically process.

  3. Like others have stated, this posting has clarified some things for me. Up until now I’ve been trying to identify a single scene I could label my midpoint and couldn’t because my midpoint is a cluster of very visual set piece scenes that take place over the course of one day when the antagonistic force fully demonstrates the danger they pose and its only by the end of the day the protagonist realises that the only solution is to escape ie the antagonist is not going to disappear or be reasoned with. Thanks.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      In my own experience, Midpoints are usually one of *the* biggest structural beats in a story. Although all the necessary pieces can happen within a single moment, they’re more likely to unfold throughout a larger sequence of related scenes.

  4. The Midpoint Shift is one of those concepts that is probably so simple, that it is made more complicated than it really is — and so some people (like me) automatically react to the concept with some anxiety, and so we continue our own confusion and frustration about it 🙂

    Katie, in your 3-Act model:
    First Plot Point – marks the end of Act 1 and beginning of Act 2.
    Second Plot Point / Midpoint – marks the end of the first half Act 2 and beginning of the second half of Act 2.
    Third Plot Point – marks end of Act 2 and beginning of Act 3.

    Since each of those Plot Points splits a major section of the story, that necessarily means that each of those three Points is likely to occur across scene(s) very near — or at — the end of one section and very near — or at — the beginning of the next one.

    We know each scene in a story should have its own scene-level arc with rising and peaking tension and change in the main character. Does that mean that a Plot Point scene-level arc would itself typically be split across completely different scenes in different sections?

    I’ve also read in a different story structure that each Act in a story should have its own inciting incident and climax. If so, then does the tension in the Plot Point-related scenes across two Acts also count as each Act’s inciting incident and climax?

    (I would not blame you if, at this point, you’re chuckling at my confusion 🙂

    Thank you!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I find it helpful to think of story structure as a repeating spiral pattern. The basic rise and fall of action (Inciting Event through Climactic Moment) happens on the level of the scene, the scene sequence, the act, the story as a whole, and, when appropriate, the series as a whole.

      That said, I don’t personally find it helpful to try to *exactly* apply every beat of story structure to every scene or even every act. The smaller the story integer, the less specific the various beats of an arc need to be in application.

  5. It’s funny.

    In the manuscript I currently have on ice (or stuffed in my drawer, but I prefer the ice metaphor), each draft has led me to rearranging scenes and changing the lengths of scenes, which causes the 50% mark to fall in a different place (plotwise) in each draft. However, at the last part of revision before I put the manuscript back on ice, I try to shift the ‘moment of truth’ to as close to the 50% point as possible while still making sense. What I’ve discovered is that multiple plot events/revelations could trigger the ‘moment of truth’ and each one can be justified. So if in Draft X Plot Event A falls at the 50% point, I can write it so that Plot Event A causes the ‘moment of truth,’ and if in Draft Y it turns out that Plot Event B is near the 50% mark instead, I can change it so that Plot Event B induces the ‘moment of truth.’ (For the first half of the story, my protagonist’s goal is essentially to get back to the status quo prior to the inciting incident, and the ‘moment of truth’ is that this goal is impossible, she needs a new goal).

  6. Grace Dvorachek says

    This was a very helpful reminder! In the recently-finished draft of one of my WIPs, I really tried to nail the Midpoint home. Up until this point, both Orwyn and Eris (the MCs) have been living according to their Lies, both externally and internally. These Lies manifested themselves in several ways, including Orwyn believing that his brother, Adric, was behind a certain set of murders, and Eris vehemently disdaining any contact with the nobles.

    Orwyn’s Plot Revelation arrives when he finally manages to make his way back to the safety of the nobles at Bruckstone Castle. Adric subsequently comes to bring Orwyn back to the rebels’ cottage—by force, if necessary. Things get heated, Adric continually denying any part in the murders, and Orwyn finally demands the truth. If Adric didn’t kill those nobles, then who did? The answer is surprising to Orwyn, though not to the readers. Duke Sorik walks into the courtyard, admitting that he was the one behind it. This is an immediate blow to Orwyn’s Lie that the peasants are worthless. Duke Sorik—a highly-esteemed noble—is the murderer, and Adric—a disinherited prince-turned-peasant—was actually helping Orywn all along. Later, after Orwyn and Adric narrowly escape from Duke Sorik’s guards, the Moment of Truth comes when Adric reveals his willingness to sacrifice his own goal for Orwyn’s.

    Eris’ Midpoint is almost completely the other way around. She and Wulf—a fellow rebel—are at Pardell Castle in answer to a mysterious warning. While there, they are interrupted by Lord Corbin, a noble whom Eris especially hates, as Corbin’s father (Duke Sorik) killed her sister. Corbin begs for mercy, but Wulf convinces Eris that they have to get rid of him. Just as she’s about to do the deed, a group of soldiers burst on the scene. In the chaos that follows, Eris becomes trapped, and Wulf makes a dash for safety instead of staying to help her. Then comes the Plot Revelation, when Corbin steps in to help Eris. She’s surprised, but reluctantly accepts the help. They manage to escape together, though Corbin is mortally wounded in the process. Several miles away, Eris helps him off the horse to the ground, and tries to make his final moment comfortable. His last words (the Moment of Truth) explain why he saved her life, leaving her all the more mystified.

  7. James Lindquist says

    Dwight Swain’s book, “Techniques of the selling author,” covers this with MRU’s (Motivation Reaction Units) You have explained easier. Thanks. I must be a visual learner. I am seriously considering rewriting what I have already written (The first plot point) with MRU’s. Question though: since the motivation is objective and has its own paragraph, how do I write it without using exposition? I am writing in third person limited subjective deep POV. Will an objective statement or paragraph separate the reader form my protagonist?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It won’t always be necessary to spell out a character’s motivation. Often, you can make the motivation clear through the subtext of the character’s actions. Other times, the character’s motivation may remain a mystery for a purposeful amount of time, drawing readers’ (and other characters’) curiosity until it is fitting to explain it more explicitly in a reveal later in the story.

  8. Thanks for doing this series of the two halves of the major plot points. That statement that gave me the biggest aha about the midpoint hinge was that about the protagonist getting the “single most important bit of information about why his attempts to gain the plot goal have so far been less than effective.” Why am I failing? The answer to that question is truly life-changing. (Assuming one is listening.) Another important point that sparked my mind into action was the “coming together of the external and internal conflicts.” I found I had sort of done that, but not intentionally. Going back over that point in my WIP has really strengthened my mid-point. It makes sense that the protagonist’s embrace of the Truth would make a great impact on the events in the external world. Good stuff. Looking forward to the rest of the series.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “Why am I failing? The answer to that question is truly life-changing. (Assuming one is listening.)”

      So true!

  9. Kathy+Crabtree says

    Hi there- I tried to buy your outline book with the 25% discount on Monday 11/29 at 5:40 PT after reading that today was the last day to order the discounted ebook. But when I attempted to order the Mac edition, the order form said the discount had expired! Just an FYI. Thanks for all the insight provided in your ”halves” of the wholes. Fascinating!
    Kathy

  10. Doing a quick recap, my story involves a con artist sentence to slavery underneath an almost immortal dwarf. The dwarf doesn’t want this, but the judge insists on this and sends along a sheriff as an enforcer. The sheriff doesn’t like it either, but they are all under a death sentence if Elexasha (the con artist) escapes. Many things happen and we get to the mid point. Key is that the dwarf never treats Elexasha like a slave, actually teaching her things she knows how to turn into money and getting her interested in parts of his mission, though she continues to tell herself she’s a fool and she’s just waiting the right minute to hit the trail. Lots of things happen and we get to the mid point.

    What I think is the Plot Revelation is that Elexasha finds she has magic, and learns that a wizard is trying to kill the almost immortal dwarf, and that this happens to be the most powerful wizard in the land, and he’ll probably succeed. I think the moment of truth is that she realizes she can escape if she’s willing to sacrifice her two friends (the relationship with the lawman has brightened along the road), and that she’s not willing to do that. She will accept no outcome that doesn’t protect all of them, and that’s not a comfortable place for her to be.

    To make something clear, the book is not a soft-sell of slavery. The dwarf pointedly never treats Elexasha as a slave, but we do see examples of cruel masters.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      A realization regarding what John Truby calls a False Ally/Enemy (basically realizing that someone you trusted is untrustworthy and/or someone you didn’t trust *is* trustworthy) often makes for a great Moment of Truth at the Midpoint.

  11. Ever since I’ve started reading your blog posts and books, structure has been making so much more sense. The mirroring between 1st and 2nd halves is fascinating. Thanks for all this information!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s great! 😀 And, yes, “mirroring” in general (any sort of pattern, really) is endlessly fascinating to me.

  12. In Hudson’s “The Virgin’s Promise,” which beat do you think most closely corollates to the Midpoint? I’m thinking it’s “No Longer Fits Her World.”

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I saw the Midpoint in her system as specifically “Caught Shining,” the beat subsequent to “No Longer Fits Her World.”

  13. Madelaine B says

    So, if I’m understanding the two halves of the Midpoint correctly: the Plot Revelation gives the character the information they need to defeat the antagonist (the final piece of the puzzle). Forces them to see “why am I failing?” And shows them why (because they’re missing information or got information wrong or trusted wrong person…etc)

    And the other half, focusing on Character, forces the character to take this information and apply it—which means, sometimes, digging deep and figuring out if they can? If they can look past the Lie and damaging belief it caused, to do what they have to in order to prevail? Forces them to ask the question: Can I shed XYZ damage/Lie to finish this? Can I do what has to be done in order to succeed?

    Is that right?

  14. Yuki Suishou says

    I keep struggling to pin down my Midpoint. My protagonist spirals negatively from the First Plot Point’s revelation until she musters the last of her courage and trusts someone who has the power to either save or destroy her, without knowing for sure which will happen. She’s saved from the situation, and only then starts to recover and begin accepting the Truth. Is this the Midpoint?

    I keep getting confused because it’s her rock bottom moment, which lends itself to the Third Plot Point. But she’s been reacting with more and more agency up until that point by clinging harder to her Lie.

    Am I just overthinking this? Has this moment where she puts the last vestiges of her hope in someone else been the Midpoint all along?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Symbolically, the Third Plot Point is the moment of Death/Rebirth. Often this will be represented in the story in a traumatic way. However, from the perspective of the storyform, what is most important at the Midpoint and the Third Plot Point is:

      Midpoint: Character fully recognizes validity of thematic Truth (but does not yet fully recognize the Lie’s lack of validity or reject it).

      Third Plot Point: Character fully recognizes that the Lie is ineffective and therefore incompatible with the Truth. He must “die” to the Lie and be reborn, in the Climax, to the Truth.

  15. I was reading Fearless Jones (Mosley) and about halfway through the book, I found these sentences: “I turned and walked out of there, feeling in charge for the first time since Elana Love walked in the door….I wanted them upset. I wanted them to feel like I felt.” And recognized them as the statement of the midpoint shift. Then I looked at my WIP. My midpoint has my police detective making love to the mom of the abducted boy for the first time, and realized I needed to insert a midpoint shift of my own. Here’s what I added: “…he thought about his night of lovemaking. To his surprise, he found his attitude shifting. He was no longer content to let events play themselves out. Whether it was resentment at the FBI for taking over the case or his faint hope that what he and Andrea had found was the possibility of love, he knew he had to dig unrelentingly into this case in all its intricacy until he had penetrated to the truth.” Just a few sentences, but pivotal, maybe. What do you think?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Nice! And great example from Mosley. Even without having read the book, I can instantly see what a powerful Midpoint shift is encompassed in those sentences. My only thought in regard to your own excerpt may be entirely subjective based on the context, but what you’ve included here is “telling.” I don’t think this is necessarily problematic, as this is also what Mosley is doing in his writing (although he’s able to bring more immediacy since he’s using present tense). But it may be worth at least considering if there is to “show” this realization through dramatization as well.

  16. That’s my next step–to make sure his subsequent actions show his determination to take charge and solve the case. (The complication is when the detective learns the truth, he has to conceal it from the woman he has come to love because it could destroy her. It’s a betrayal by someone who was very dear to her–a betrayal that could have cost her son’s life, and her own. Hence my title, Justice Deferred.) (I’ll also take a look at the specific language/actions from the above sentences.)

  17. Matthew Taylor says

    Hello!

    I would love to get your opinion about Synder referring to the midpoint as either a false peak (an up point) or a false collapse (a down point). If I understand correctly he believes the midpoint should be the inverse of the all is lost moment. So if the all is lost moment is a down point then the midpoint would be an up point. And vice versa.

    If the story is to have a happy ending then the all is lost moment would be a down point, to give the hero something to overcome before their final success.

    So putting that together I think he is saying:
    Up midpoint leads to down all is lost point leads to up ending.

    And down midpoint leads to up all is lost moment leads to down ending.

    I struggle with this idea because my midpoint is always a down point yet I have a happy end. So I go: down midpoint, down all is lost moment, up ending.

    I do hope I’ve made some sense and this doesn’t read as gibberish. My question would be, do you think it is important if the midpoint is an up or down moment and do you think this has a relationship to the all is lost moment and ultimately the ending of the story?? Thanks!!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Now that you bring it up, I do remember playing with that idea in years past after first reading Snyder’s book (I’d forgotten he was the one who said it). I think the idea of “alternating” the mood of the major plot points is sound. But personally, I’ve found it more useful to look at the structure as a whole and more from a thematic perspective (i.e., the Midpoint as the Moment of Truth), rather than putting too much emphasis on making the First Plot Point a downer, the Midpoint an upper, and the Third Plot Point a downer, so to speak.

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