Midpoint: Not Just Another Scene

The scene at the midpoint of your novel is magical. In it the power struggle between the protagonist and the antagonist reaches a turning point. Perhaps a defeat brings the protagonist to a place where things could not possibly get worse. Or a victory puts the antagonist on the ropes; down but not out. Obviously things will get worse if the protagonist does nothing. The stakes are immense.

For education and entertainment, I reviewed a few familiar plays of Shakespeare’s to illustrate the magic of that scene in the middle.

Henry V. Henry has been insulted by the French king’s representative. To pacify Henry the French King offers his daughter in marriage and various petty, unprofitable dukedoms as bribes. Henry, incensed, lands on the French coast to win by war a just recompense. This action results in the battle of Agincourt.

Julius Caesar. Against the warnings of his wife, Caesar goes to the Forum where he is murdered. This sets off rebellion in Rome eventually resulting in the battle of Phillippi.

MacBeth. After the murder of Duncan, King of Scotland, MacBeth, based on the words of the witches who told him Banquo’s heirs will inherit the throne, hires murderers to kill Banquo, one of Duncan’s generals, and his son, Fleance.  This action succeeds in removing Banquo, but Fleance escapes, which leads to the death of MacBeth in battle.

Hamlet Hamlet learns from the ghost of his father that his uncle murdered his father and married his father’s wife. The ghost requires Hamlet take revenge on Hamlet’s uncle. Hamlet agonizes over his options. When a troop of actor’s shows up at the castle, Hamlet provides them a scene to play depicting the murder of his father, hoping to catch the conscience of the king, freeing him from his promise to revenge his father’s murder. This action leads to a duel causing the deaths of half of the cast.

Each of these scenes intensifies the drama, captures the attention of the reader, and prepares the reader for the decision point. The point when the protagonist must take action.

The scene at the middle of the novel, story, or film is where the protagonist examines who he has become. He reconsiders every aspect of his personality and his challenge. He knows a key exists which unlocks the riddle. Find the key and, though the end may not be assured, hope for success lies on the horizon. Along with the secondary characters he searches out the path through the antagonist’s defenses.

There is no stasis here. The midpoint is the fulcrum where the lever is applied that moves the plot, caused by the actions of the protagonist and his helpers as they search out their options.  

The riddle sparks the writer’s imagination. Using the premise of the story and the personalities of the protagonist, his helpers, the antagonist, and his helpers, the writer works the magic. Of course, the twist throws the hearty band back.

Things will never be the same again.

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