Midpoint Crisis: Plotting


Starting a new novel, I always try to look at the structure of the plot, but this time, I’m especially looking at character issues, since that’s my weakness.

A Story of XXX becomes a Story of ZZZ

It’s always that tricky second act that’s hard. The actions for the beginning and ending are easy, especially for the story I have in mind. But the second act is the place where characters confront each other and lives change. How to plan for that in the plot? How do you keep from having a sagging middle?

Often, there is a midpoint where a story totally shifts in a different direction. For example, in the movie “The Lion King”, there’s a dramatic shift. Act 1 is where the father is killed and Simba is left an orphan and runs away. Act 2/1st half he’s living the good life, “Acuna matata.” Then, his father talks to him from the stars and Simba realizes he must return home and face his evil uncle. A story of carefree living becomes a story of taking up his father’s mantle and leading his pack.
sagging middle, plot, character, act 2, how to write, novel, book
In the movie, “The Professional,” a teen’s family is murdered and a neighbor — who just happens to be a hit man — takes her in and protects her. The midpoint comes when these two unlikely characters realize they care for each other. A story of violence becomes a story of love.

The change isn’t always a 180 degree shift; sometimes, it’s a 90 degree shift. It just means that the character’s goals change somewhat because the character has changed.

Facing the Past

The midpoint often means facing something from your past. A secret is revealed. A character faces some guilt. A truth must be dealt with. It must cost the character something to turn in a different direction.

Sometimes the midpoint change is a switch from emphasis on the physical plot to an emphasis on the emotional plot. The physical plot in my new story is one of endurance. That’s just built into the events. So, I’m asking myself how this can change.

A struggle to endure becomes a struggle to understand.
A struggle to endure becomes a struggle to accept.
A struggle to endure becomes . . .

Not sure yet, where it will go, but thinking this way is helping me find the story I want to tell. It’s already meant changing the parents of my main character in more interesting ways. I’ve found some secrets in the family’s past.

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  • Natalie Aguirre
    June 24, 2010

    I struggled so much with the middle of my manuscript. It sagged way too much in too many versions. I like how you’ve defined the middle because it seems like it keeps the story going. My middle stopped sagging when I added a major crisis where the main character screwed up and doubted herself/felt guilty. At least I think it works.

  • Kathryn Jankowski
    June 27, 2010

    I like how you phrase the change in struggles. I’ve given my MC one crisis in Act One and another in Act Two and it seems to be holding up well. *knocks on wood*