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How to Create an Awesome Midpoint for Your Story

Part 2

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How do you create an awesome midpoint for your story? One that…

  • Re-engages the audience just when their attention may be waning.
  • Injects new energy into the story and creates momentum to rocket us to the big finish.
  • And gets the audience to lean in, desperate to know what happens next and loving every second of it.

A good midpoint can do all of that (and more). It all comes down to creating some new tension right there in the middle of your script.

In this series we’ll cover two strategies that will help you do that. Today let’s talk about strategy #1: increasing the opposition.

Why increase the opposition?

We often talk about how good stories essentially come down to, “Someone wants something very badly and goes after it against great opposition.” With that simple statement, you get protagonist, goal, stakes, and opposition. This is the main conflict in your screenplay.

So if you’re looking to renew the tension in the story, it makes sense that you’d think about how to ratchet up that conflict, the main thing we’re focused on in this story. Build on what you’ve already established by looking at the elements currently in play.

One of the ways to do that is by increasing opposition, which increases the conflict by making it harder for the protagonist to achieve his goal.

Before the midpoint, hopefully you were already making it really, really hard for the protagonist to achieve the thing. And then, at the midpoint, if you make it even harder? If we care about the character and what he’s trying to do, we’ll be on the edge of our seats, watching to see what he does now.

As we talked about last week, if we’re already invested in that protagonist’s journey (because you’ve shown us why we should care) then an increase in the conflict will almost always feel more tense and urgent and engaging than a starting a brand new conflict from scratch.

How to increase opposition

Anything that makes the opposition stronger, or makes it harder for the protagonist to accomplish his or her goal, qualifies as “increasing the opposition” for our purposes.

That can manifest in many different ways, including:

  • If it’s physically harder for the character to achieve the goal, either by changing circumstances or due to something generated by the opposition.
  • If the antagonist gets stronger, gains more support, or gains an advantage like information or resources the protagonist doesn’t have.
  • If the protagonist’s position is weakened, like if he has support or resources taken away, or perhaps gets bad or unreliable information.

As you can see, there are a lot of permutations. Coming up with ways to increase opposition in your story is limited only by your imagination, and brainstorming is your friend here.

When you’re trying to figure out what should happen at the midpoint, give yourself time to brainstorm every possible way to make the opposition stronger, or otherwise make it harder for the protagonist to achieve the goal. Then you have a pool of ideas to draw from, and you can mix and match until you have an awesome midpoint for your screenplay.

Movie midpoint example

In The Silence of the Lambs, the Midpoint occurs when Chilton sabotages the arrangement (and the relationship) between Clarice and Lecter by revealing the deal she’s offered Lecter is fake. Chilton then offers Lecter a deal of his own, which Lecter accepts – but refuses to identify Buffalo Bill by name unless he’s flown to Tennessee so he can tell the Senator himself.

First let’s identify the essential elements:

Protagonist: Clarice
Goal: Stop an active serial killer
Antagonist: Buffalo Bill (the serial killer)
Stakes: the life of Buffalo Bill’s latest victim

At the midpoint, does the opposition increase?

Yes, it definitely gets harder for Clarice to achieve her goal. She loses trust and support from her mentor character (Lecter) when he learns she’s trying to fool him and he accepts Chilton’s offer instead.

Lecter then creates more hoops to jump through (and delays) before Clarice can learn the killer’s true identity – something she needs to do before she can achieve her story goal.

This midpoint also increases internal opposition. It pokes at Clarice’s biggest fear: that she’s not strong enough to meet the challenge, that she’s fundamentally too weak to save that lamb. By taking away Clarice’s main source of help (Lecter), the midpoint causes Clarice’s internal or mental opposition to rear its head. Now she has to solve the case while also trying to battle her own demons, all on her own.

Notice that the increase in opposition happens within the main conflict. It’s still all about Clarice trying to stop the killer and save the girl. But the killer isn’t the one actively increasing the opposition here – and that’s okay! While you almost certainly want the climax of your story to revolve around the protagonist’s confrontation with the true antagonist, your midpoint doesn’t have to. As long as it clearly connects to the main conflict.

Here, the antagonist’s position gets stronger, he gets an advantage, even if he’s not the one doing it. Even though Buffalo Bill is the antagonist in this story, the central relationship, the big entertainment hook, and the method Clarice is using to achieve her goal all involve Lecter. So for him to play a part in this major turning point feels right for this story. It’s a midpoint that builds on what we’ve been tracking all along.

So that’s strategy #1, the first of two ways the midpoint often functions in order to keep our attention. An increase in opposition that doubles down on our existing investment will keep us engaged with the story so we’re willing and eager to stick around ‘til the end. Stay tuned for strategy #2!

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