WEEK 9: PART 1: MID-POINTS AND DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL
- create the mirror moment in the middle of your story, which you can work forward or back from
- write or plan your characters darkest moment in the story
Why have a section of mid-points? Well, in my experience and many others, this is where any problems with your story can develop during the first draft stage.
Many of us plan well for the first third, some of us know our climax’s and endings well, but often it’s the part in the between, the escalating series of problems for our main character, that we struggle.
I am certainly one of those who often gets to 20-30k and then starts to struggle.
My first tip – which doesn’t necessarily solve this issue – is to skip any sticky points and go to the next scene you can clearly see and imagine and are motivated to write. I often writer drafts in fragments, which I later have to blend together, either by inserting missed scenes, or creating new transitions.
The advantage to this method is momentum and getting down more of your WIP and the encouragement and motivation that brings, which can then help you go back to those trickier sections and can even help unlock whatever the problem was – it may even no longer exist. All have happened to me before.
The disadvantage of course is that writing out of linear sequence can lead to continuity issues and it can be tricky dipping in and out to different phases of the story, especially on the first draft when you are less familiar.
But how about we look at story structure and character arcs in a way that might mean we can avoid issues in the middle altogether.
One of the books I mentioned in the reading list, John Yorke’s Into the Woods, explores how the mid-point can be viewed as an inverted mirror image. Here’s what he said in an interview I read with him:
‘One easy trick is to look at your Act Two – and then do an inverse mirror image of that, so that the things that go well in Act Two start to become really difficult in Act Four. This works because all narrative aspires to a symmetrical shape.
Another tip is to ask yourself. “What did this character learn at the midpoint?” and then to look at why what he or she learned is so difficult to carry out. So, in The Godfather, Michael learns evil at the midpoint, but then he has to go back and deal with the love of his family, and it’s really difficult for him. If you’re really in doubt about Act Four, a fairly common trick is to kill someone close to the hero – there’s a really good example in the novel One Day by David Nicholls.’
Being familiar with his 4 act structure, rather than the traditional 3 act might help when applying this advice of his, but it’s the same whether it’s the middle of Act 2 or between 2 and 3…what is the lesson your MC has to learn, what flaw or fear do they need to overcome…did they learn it by the mid-point? Or are they still on their way? A false-dawn or a small win are commonly used at the mid-point, followed by a fall in Act 3, leading to our Darkest Hour for our MC, building through a series of crises, before they use what they have learned to overcome the final, biggest obstacles during the climax.
If you’re unfamiliar with this terminology in terms of story structure, don’t sweat it, but I always think it’s worth learning every aspect of story structure and craft, even if it’s simply to consciously choose not to do it that way for a specific reason.
But back to the mid-point, that inverted mirror image can be used as a starting point – find the exact middle of your story and write forwards or backwards from it, like ripples moving away from the point where water is broken. Hopefully by a huge stone, that makes a massive splash, or at least a significant one.
I always think about Avengers: End Game (Part II of a duology) which I watched recently. They have that false dawn, that small win, where (SPOILER) the Avengers return from their trip back in time with all the Infinity Stones and manage to snap everyone back that Thanos had got rid of. Then, we enter Act 3 (or 4, depending on which model you use), where there is series of crisis points and it results in the very Darkest Hour for the Avengers. And what happens – we get another small win – all the back-up arrives.
But even then, with all of these small wins, they still have to overcome their greatest obstacles in the climax. And they do, and it’s a mirror image of the end of the prequel to that film, Infinity War, where instead of Thanos snapping half of life out of existence, Tony Stark use all he has learnt since (he lost first time around to Thanos) and snaps Thanos and his followers out of existence.
It’s poetic and mirrored and all the sweeter in terms of story structure because of that inverted mirror image.
So maybe think of that final act – what happens that can be mirrored at the mid-point in a similar way to help us elevate that section of the story.
Another tip, from the inspiring Donald Maass, is to build towards a small success at the mid-point, then think of the worst thing that could happen to your MC in that moment in time and do it. Haul them down, spiralling towards that darkest hour. Make us feel like the MC is close to achieving their goal, to learning the lesson they need to learn, the fear/flaw they need to overcome, then start making it harder and harder for them.
Murphy’s Law: whatever can go wrong, should go wrong.
You can view the mid-point as the beginning of the sun setting and the darkest hour rushing in, trying to consume and defeat our MC – note this, if done well, will only heighten the elation of finally succeeding at the climax. And it will keep our reader firmly and more securely rooting for our MC to overcome those impossible odds.
*We will discuss the Darkest Hour next time.
We always remember great openings and endings and sometimes our mid-points can let us down. Let’s make ours count and keep your reader flying through those middle pages, catapulting them down towards the darkest hour. Make them beg and miss sleep to find out if our MC’s can overcome these escalating obstacles.
Think of your mid-point like a mountain. The peak is actually the middle of your journey.
Elevate those MC’s as we approach the mid-point, then tear them down and your story will no longer have a ‘saggy middle!’
Suggested Writing Task
Find your inverted mirror image, or your mid-point where your MC has begun the learn the lesson, to overcome their fear/flaw, or made some good progress towards their end goal. Then bring it tumbling down.