Stuck on the Middle

Think back to a time before you started writing. Those heady days when you blissfully read novel after novel, happily ignorant to the fact that somewhere in the story, there was a plot point known as a midpoint reversal.

You probably even read the midpoint thinking, ‘wow, what a twist!’ Or perhaps, ‘gosh, what is (insert main character’s name here) going to do now?’ Maybe you had a sense that a major shift had occurred in the narrative, propelling you into the second half of the story. But you didn’t question what it was. You just kept on reading, absorbing the story without analysing it.

That was how I used to be.

But now I’m hyperaware of PLOT (ugh, plot, amiright?) And within all those turning points that make up the plot, there is one particular turning point that you will usually find, oddly enough, in the middle of the narrative. You guessed it – it’s the midpoint reversal.

So now when I listen to a novel on Audible I think – I’m about halfway through. Surely something extra dramatic is about to happen soon. Or when I see my Kindle is at 50% but nothing earth-shattering has happened in a while, I wonder – where is the midpoint scene? Is it running late?

I recently attended a Plotting Masterclass run by author Natasha Lester where she discussed the emotional elements of plotting a novel. If you have the opportunity to attend one of Natasha’s masterclasses, I highly recommend it so that you can listen to her discuss in detail what she calls her ‘three story sparklers’ and the impact they have on plotting. But today, I’m focusing on that murky midpoint, which Natasha says is a big dramatic scene, often involving blood, death or break up.

Natasha has the following to say about the midpoint reversal:

  • It’s a key standout scene in your narrative
  • It’s caused by all the events that have led up to it and in turn causes all the events that follow it
  • It causes your character to stop reacting and to take action
  • It alters your character’s journey – they really start to fight for something, it teaches them a big lesson and causes them to change
  • When planning your midpoint reversal, you should ask yourself what is the event, what action does your protagonist take as a result and how does it change them?

In The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery, Robert J.Ray and Jack Remick say: ‘Midpoint is big. Spending time here now will make your writing easier later.’

In summary, the midpoint is super important, okay? Don’t stuff it up. No pressure.

Let’s take a look at some examples of midpoint scenes in books written by authors who totally knew what they were doing.

In The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, Rachel sees a news report – they’ve found Megan’s body in the woods, less than five miles from her home. This is right near where Rachel was that night, only she can’t remember what happened because she was intoxicated. Staying true to the rule of a big, dramatic event involving blood, death or break up, this midpoint has a significant death. Rachel now decides to takes action. She feels guilty and responsible, and wonders if she could somehow have been involved in Megan’s death. She shows up at Megan’s house and forms a relationship with her husband. She actively spends the second half of the novel trying to remember what she did that night and trying to figure out what happened to Megan.

In Fetish by Tara Moss, the first novel in the Makedde Vanderwall series, Mak succumbs to the charms of Detective Andy Flynn while the killer sits outside her apartment, waiting for an opportunity to pounce. The next morning, Andy is awoken by a phone call telling him that soapie star Becky Ross has been found murdered by the ‘Stiletto Murderer’ – grossly disfigured and naked except for one stiletto shoe. This victim is in a much worse state than the others, indicating the killer kept her alive while torturing her. Andy realises with horror that the killer is evolving. Again, we have blood and death and the hunt for the serial killer intensifies with increased stakes for main character, Mak, as she tries to find out who murdered her best friend before she becomes the next victim.

In And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, the midpoint reversal occurs after three murders have already taken place and the seven people remaining on the island realise that the killer is amongst them. They notice that each time one of them is murdered, one of the ten figures on the dining room table is removed. This affects the behaviour of all the characters as they grow paranoid, suspecting each other and fearing they might be next. They lock their bedroom doors at night and stay in groups as they move around the hotel.

With all of this information in mind, I’ve crafted a midpoint reversal for my own story, The Princess Murders, which I’m hoping ticks all the boxes. In my story, Sylvie is investigating the murder of her childhood friend, Bianca. The diagram below shows the key plot points (summarised so they don’t give too much away – my husband is going to read it and I don’t want to give him too many clues.) The midpoint reversal occurs when Sylvie learns that someone she trusts has been lying to her and might be dangerous. Not only that, but a secret is revealed indicating that person may also be complicit in Bianca’s murder. In the scene where Sylvie confronts that person, a violent altercation ensues.

Screenshot 2017-03-20 18.50.27

Reflecting on Natasha’s words that the midpoint often involves blood, death or break up, I’m hoping I’ve got this covered because my midpoint has a little bit of blood and a definite break up – the relationship between Sylvie and the person who has been lying to her has been done irreparable damage.

As I continue to work on my manuscript, I’m also listening to Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty on Audible and I am not, under any circumstances, going to let myself become distracted waiting to analyse the midpoint scene. (But it’s going to be what happens at the barbecue – am I right?)



7 thoughts on “Stuck on the Middle

  1. I recently attended Natasha’s Plotting Masterclass in Perth, so I really enjoyed this post.
    In fact, I have spent this week sketching out my turning points, midpoint reversal and climax, for both the main & sub plot, and working out scenes that will link them all.
    And you’re right – ever since the masterclass, when I’m half way thru a book I’m thinking of the midpoint reversal in very specific terms 😂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post as the midpoint is a vital part of storytelling, regardless of the medium.

    As Blake Snyder writes in his classic book on screenwriting, Save the Cat, the midpoint is like the mountain crest or deep valley separating the two equal halves of the book, detailing where ‘the stakes are raised.’

    Without a strong midpoint, with a dramatic event (good or bad) the story will just plod along and put the reader / watcher to sleep.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Good advice! I have always felt it when a middle is flat, in books or in those Hollywood movies where all the energy is spent on a gripping beginning and end, leaving a long flat stretch in the middle in which to twiddle our thumbs. My middle does have one of those 3 ingredients you mentioned, but I’m not saying which!

    Liked by 1 person

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