Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

Thursday, February 25, 2010

It's so good, but there's something missing

You're halfway through your novel, or maybe you're done with the last draft and something's just not quite right. There's something missing, you're not sure what it is. It could be the mid-point milestone. Go to Larry Brooks' for a detailed description of this crucial element in story structure.

Here's Larry's short definition of the mid-point milestone: new information that enters the story squarely in the middle of it, that changes the contextual experience and understanding of either the reader, the hero, or both.

Still not sure what this entails? Look at your own experience as an example, because these happen all the time in life, we just don't label them as such. Here's mine:

Once I worked at Costco. I was on the fast track for promotion in my department. I had been promoted fairly quickly, first to full-time (all Costco employees start out as part-timers), then to lead. (That fast, unexpected promotion to lead was my first plot point--it changed everything in my feeling about my job. I decided to move forward. It was no longer just a nice little part-time job for me. It would be my career.)

I had my eye on supervisor and/or manager of my department. My superiors seemed to like me. I felt like I was doing a good job. All was well in my world. The perfect opportunity opened up, and I figured I was a shoo-in. Then came the mid-point milestone. I can't remember exactly how it happened, but the curtain parted for me and I discovered that the warehouse manager disliked me intensely. I apparently had done something that upset him, and he was the grudge-holding kind who never forgot and always got his revenge. It was his warehouse after all, he was boss over all.

Once that realization hit, the stakes increased for me. And for him-- (the villain in my little story) I tried even harder to move forward, and he blocked me at every turn. But because I knew why, due to the "new understanding/mid-point milestone," it changed my understanding and experience of the situation. It was more emotionally-charged, other people got involved, it became a David and Goliath battle essentially between us.

(For some strange reason I cannot fix the italics on this post!!!!???? So sorry about the font-weirdness here.)

Anyway, moral of the story: Mid-point milestones happen to us constantly in life, and it must happen in our fiction. Without it, the structure is flawed and your story will collapse. Which is why I suggest it may be that "something missing" one might notice on a read-back of an otherwise really amazing piece of writing.


  1. Hi

    Yes very good advice, thanks KarenG! Like life, there are so many twists and turns that you can't really predict. Someone or something might throw a spanner in the works so to speak to the most carefully laid out plan. Which adds to the conflict, which can only strengthen the story! Which can only leave the reader guessing.

    Great stuff!

    Take care

  2. Ever since I first read about this I've been flipping novels over on their spine when something really, really game-changing happens. Yep... always halfway!

    (Unless they've gone for a three- or five-act structure instead. Which now leaves me confused...)

  3. Karen -- this is off topic, but I'm wondering how your speaking gig went. Please tell us it was a raging success.

  4. I love the "parting of the curtain" explanation. I did not even know about the midpoint til I read this series.

  5. Phew! Good thing I've got a good middle of my book :)

    It accidentally ended up that way, actually. The cataclysmic middle of my book was supposed to be the ending, at 60,000 words.

    But then I created an additional outline that added on 25,000 more words inclusive of a new exciting ending! :)

  6. Funny I never thought of it like that. I will now be consciously looking for this middle conflict in the middle of the book I'm reading and anything else I write. Thanks Karen.

  7. Colette, you are so nice to ask. I'll post about it real soon! I actually have a LOT to say about it lol! Some good, some not so good!

    Hampshire flyer, interesting isn't it? Story structure dictates that is right smack dab in the middle!

    M. Gray, me neither-- gulp! Although I;m pretty sure my editor understood the concept, she didn't explain it in quite this way. I'm going to my last novel to see what happens in the middle.

    Old Kitty-- the cool thing is that sometimes the conflict can be so very subtle. I actually love that in a novel.

    Xuxana-- And since you're still writing, who knows how many middles it will have by the time you're done!

    Ann-- Me too! And to tell you the truth, I'm not real sure where mine is just yet in my wip, on either the plot or the subplot. But I've got to get it figured out before I move on.

  8. Karen, I knew there was supposed to be a turning point, but I never knew it had to be in the middle. I think for the two manuscripts I've been concentrating on, that is about where it happens. Now I have to go make sure!

    It's funny because I've read a few how to write books, and none have mentioned this mid-point milestone. Thanks for enlightening me!

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  10. I'm back.

    Manuscript One 190 pages. Mid-point incident page 95. Eerie.
    Manuscript Two 176 pages. Mid-point incident page 81. Eerier.

    Now I just have to get an agent to read that far into one of them.

  11. Theresa, that is eerie!! Strange that you did this without realizing it. Shows you have the right instincts for story telling!! Good luck with getting that agent!!

  12. My fonts get stuck all the time!

    But what I want to know is, did you ever get the position???

  13. Tamara, No, since at Costco, the warehouse manager is King. However, events played out in such a way that the story had a happy ending for me. Not so happy for him lol!

  14. Midpoint stuff... oh, I managed it in the third MS and did well--enough-- but the new MS? aack. I know it must happen at the MP but I am laying down a third Plot revision and story line with the same two fabulous characters. I keep asking myself: what is the real mid point? emotional or outer? Oh, I love them. And my heroine is finally emerging way PAST the midpoint... so back to the front I go!

    Writing... a perfect conundrum.

  15. Christine,

    They puzzle me in my own writing as well, although I can pick them out well enough in films and in mss. I edit. I'm not even sure what my mid-point is in my published novel, and sure haven't figured it out in my wip. I thought posting about it would help me lol!

  16. Great post - and something else to add to my editing folder. Thanks.


Comments are welcome!