If you are doing Nanowrimo, you have reached the half-way point in the event. And perhaps the midpoint—or center of your story. Until now the antagonist has been making the moves, making the protagonist react. At the midpoint, things change and the story kicks into a higher gear. A strong midpoint powers your novel.
The First Half of the Story
Everything that happens in the first half of the story builds to the midpoint. You’ve shown your protagonist in her normal world. The reader gets to know her, know what she likes, what she doesn’t like, who she loves or doesn’t love. Most importantly, you’ve introduced the story problem and the antagonist.
The antagonist drives the first half of the story. At about the 12.5% mark in the story, something the antagonist did or did not do pushed the protagonist to react. Her reaction led to the antagonist’s next step. And finally, the protagonist started trying to figure out what was happening, why it was happening, and how she could return to her normal life. She resists and reacts until the midpoint.
Every step in the main plot of the first half of the story builds to the midpoint. Yes, I’ve repeated myself. It’s that important. The midpoint powers your story.
At the 50% mark, something big happens. The big something is an external action that triggers an internal event. To be that kind of trigger, it will be a failure or a perceived (false) win.
This big event or action makes the protagonist take a hard look at herself. She realizes that a win will not be easy. It’s going to cost her something. She questions herself. Where does she stand? What does she believe? What is she willing to do to win?
The midpoint and her self-reflection (sometimes called the mirror moment) shakes the protagonist out of the reaction phase. From this point forward, the protagonist will take a more proactive stance. For the protagonist to survive (literally or figuratively) she must go on the attack. From this point forward, there is no going back home. There is only marching inexorably forward.
The examples here are from thrillers and science fiction. You can find examples in your own genre. Choose a book you have read and know fairly well. Find the page that is the middle of the book by page number. You may have to read that entire chapter to understand what the midpoint is.
The middle of my copy of The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris is pat 183.5. That’s in the middle of chapter 28. It’s the chapter where Jack Crawford is desperate to save the senator’s daughter. He’s at John Hopkins’s Gender Identity Clinic requesting records that might lead to uncovering Buffalo Bill’s identity. But the midpoint moment comes at the end of the chapter. His frustration with certain characters, his understanding of the senator’s fears for her daughter, and his own fear the daughter won’t be found in time change how he’s dealing with those characters. And he okays the extradition of Hannibal Lector to Tennessee.
The midpoint in Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card is when Ender is taken off the Salamander Army team and given his own command… of the worst students in Battle School. It changes how Ender behaves and thinks for the rest of the book.
In My Soul to Keep, the first book of my series, the Fellowship Dystopia, while Miranda helps the rebels rob the National Guard armory, she sees a poster of her father as the First Apostle. She creates a speech bubble coming out his mouth that reads, “I rape little girls.” She has finally decided to confront her father and the Fellowship. That decision propels her through the rest of the book.
Why a Midpoint
Not all novels have a strong midpoint because not all writers have studied story structure. But we human beings want to root for the little guy, the underdog, the gal whose sense of duty or justice or love propels her to risk something. This midpoint action scene and mirror moment allows the reader to see the little guy, the underdog, the justice seeker make the commitment to do or die. It signals the reader that there’s going to be a fight… and it lets the reader worry that maybe the good guys won’t win. This sets up a satisfying read.
What If I Don’t Have a Midpoint?
No worries. You can learn. You can rewrite. Study your manuscript, understand your protagonist’s story arc, and revise your novel. The more you study story structure, the better you understand it, the better your story will be.
Whether you’re an experienced writer or a newbie, learning and refreshing your understanding, a strong Midpoint powers your novel. Have you identified the midpoint in your novel or in stories you’ve read? Please share those with us in the comments.