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How to Create an Awesome Midpoint for Your Story

Part 1

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When it comes to screenplay structure, there’s one major plot point that seems to baffle writers more than others: the Midpoint.

You know it’s a significant plot point right in the middle of the story, but what’s it supposed to do? What’s it supposed to be?

The Midpoint can feel daunting because it doesn’t have as narrow of a function as other major plot points. The options seem endless! Which can give writers analysis paralysis or whatever it’s called when you have too many options and can’t decide between them.

But there’s a simple way to think about the Midpoint that will guide you through the morass of choices and help you create the best one for your story.

And that’s exactly what we’re going to cover in this 3-part series. Today we’ll talk about what a Midpoint needs to do, then in parts two and three we’ll talk specifics about how to make your Midpoint effective.

But first, let’s recap what a Midpoint is.

What is a Midpoint?

The Midpoint is a major plot point that occurs right around — you guessed it — the middle of the screenplay.

plot point’s function is to move the protagonist closer to or farther from his or her goal. So a Midpoint does that, but usually in a more pronounced way than smaller plot points and milestones. Sometimes the midpoint feels as though it turns the story in an entirely new direction.

You probably notice the effect of the midpoint in movies without even realizing it. After the midpoint, good stories usually feel more intense, faster paced, more urgent and/or with higher stakes.

The Midpoint is often vital for keeping the audience engaged in the story by providing a burst of energy to carry us through the second half. It adds fuel to the fire so it doesn’t die out too early.

  • It’s Indy finding the ark but left to die in the Well of Souls in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
  • It’s Brody’s son almost being eaten by the shark in Jaws.
  • It’s Neo meeting the Oracle and learning he’s not The One in The Matrix.

Ideally, a screenplay is constantly getting us re-engaged and re-invested, but the Midpoint is a bigger boost just when we need it, so we have enough momentum to get to the end and finish strong. (No limping across the finish line, thank you.)

How does a Midpoint work?

So we know the purpose of the Midpoint: To re-engage the audience in some way. Cause the audience to lean in, to get even more invested. Inject energy into the story. But how does it do that?

By creating new tension. (In one or both of two specific ways. More on that later.)

But you can’t just throw any random thing into the middle of your story and expect it to be effective. The quality of the tension is important too.

If you think about all the things we’re commonly told need to happen at the Midpoint:

“Add a timeclock!”
“False victory!”
“False defeat!”
“A big reveal!”
“Sex at 60!”
“Now it’s personal!”

Each of these things could, in fact, create new tension. But whether it’ll be effective depends on how it impacts what we already care about.

By the middle of the story, you’ve gotten us engaged and emotionally invested. We’re rooting for the protagonist to succeed because we know what it means and how badly he wants it.

The Midpoint, then, provides the big boost it needs to because it messes with what we’ve been investing in for some time now.

To double down, we have to already have some skin in the game. (Am I mixing metaphors again?)

So an effective Midpoint isn’t just a plot device – it has bearing on the emotional story as well.

That’s why sometimes you’ll see Midpoints in movies that seem like they should matter, but they don’t. It’s a feeling — or lack of it, as the case may be. Those ineffective midpoints are big, flashy events that – on the surface – would appear to create the kind of impact you’d want from a Midpoint.

Yet they feel disconnected from the story. It happens, and we don’t care.

So we want to make sure our Midpoint connects with the audience on an emotional level. We want to build on the investment they’ve already made into the story.

As I hinted earlier, there are two specific areas we can target. Understanding these two areas gives you guidance in creating an awesome midpoint for your story. It gives you somewhere to aim. (You know I’m all about knowing what target you’re trying to hit).

We’ll talk about the two areas in depth in the next two parts of this series – with examples!

Part 2
Part 3

WRITE SCREENPLAYS THAT GET NOTICED AND OPEN DOORS

Start with my 3-part email series: "The 3 Essential, Fundamental, Don't-Mess-These-Up Screenwriting Rules." After that, you'll get a weekly dose of pro screenwriting tips and industry insights that'll help you get an edge over the competition.

Subscribe