In his book Story Engineering, Larry Brooks offers six core competencies involved in writing an excellent novel. Competency #4, Structure, has four parts: The Set-up, The Response, The Attack, and the Resolution. Within these four parts are some major milestones. The milestones within the structure are:
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“A funny thing happened on the way to the ending of your story,” Brooks says. “Everything changed. Right in the middle, in fact. A big fat unexpected twist.” That’s your Midpoint. He defines the Midpoint like this: “new information that enters the story squarely in the middle of it that changes the contextual experience and understanding of either the reader or the hero, or both.” The hero or the reader suddenly learns something important. It could pertain to hidden information that the hero knew existed somewhere but hadn’t found yet, or it could be something completely new. Whatever you chose, this new info adds weight and dramatic tension.
The Midpoint “changes things through meaning.” It empowers the hero to move from Part 2 (The Response) into Part 3 (The Attack). Now the hero has enough knowledge to be proactive about his problem/quest. He knows who to go after, where to search, what to do next. “It activates new decisions, behaviors, and actions stemming from a new perspective.”
The Da Vinci Code has two possible Midpoints, which I found a little amusing. The author knows which one of them is the true Midpoint, but it’s murkier for the reader. In Chapter 51, Sophie and Langdon stop fleeing the cops/assassin and run toward “The Teacher”–the guy who can help them solve the mystery. The hero transitions from random running to direct attack. Then in Chapter 55, both the reader and the hero learn what the Holy Grail is all about. It’s new information that completely changes the nature of the quest. It’s a huge revelation. It explains why the church is so intent on stopping Langdon.
These two revelations, packed closely together at the end of Part 2/beginning of Part 3, change the context of the story. The stakes are higher now, the quest is clearer, and the hero has a destination in mind for the final showdown.
In your 350-page novel, the Midpoint comes right around page 175. Get as close to that as possible, make the revelation a big, juicy one, and your reader will love you and your story. Questions? Comments? Rants from the pantsers out there? I welcome them all.
My next post covers the Second Pinch Point. Here’s a little hint: It’s similar to the First Pinch Point.