The next time you watch a movie on a Roku-type player (a player that displays minutes played and minutes remaining), do this:
After you’ve watched the entire movie, rewind to the exact middle of the movie. For example, if you’ve watched a 90-minute movie, rewind to the 45-minute point.
You’ll discover something that illustrates an important insight into creating a well-plotted novel or screenplay. What you’ll discover is a simple (but not always easy) technique that masterful writers employ to avoid saggy middles, the bane of many novels/screenplays. It’s called the Midpoint Shift.
In a well-constructed story, the hero – up to the midpoint of the story – has met continuous resistance. One thing after another has blocked him from achieving his goal.
As he reaches the middle of his story, he will continue to be frustrated. However, something big and dramatic happens at this point in the story – the Midpoint Shift. This Something infuses the hero with fresh hope and resolution. It points him direction of resolving his conflict.
A Midpoint Shift can be:
- a reversal of fortune (good or bad)
- a revelation (a secret revealed)
- an epiphany (event causes hero to gain insight)
- new information (new developments, or hidden information brought to light)
The Midpoint Shift usually turns the story around at at 45-degree, if not a 180-degree, angle. The hero was traveling from Point A to Point B. Now he aims for Point C or D.
- The Midpoint Shift in Jaws occurs when Chief Brody’s son is almost attacked by the Shark. The event is an epiphany, literally bringing home to Chief Brody the need to protect the people of Amity Island. He will no longer let the Mayor bully him into ignoring his duty. (epiphany)
- In The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo risks his life to get the ring of power to a place he believes can contain its evil influence – Rivendell. At the Midpoint Shift, he learns that Rivendell cannot safely harbor the ring, and that he will need to take it on an even more perilous journey to Mordor. (new information)
- In Bridget Jones’s Diary, Bridget discovers that her boss and romantic interest Daniel is cheating on her and, as a result, quits her job and resolves to reinvent herself. (revelation)
- In The Fugitive, Richard Kimble infiltrates a hospital’s records room and finds a vital clue to the identity of his wife’s murder. (new information)
A well-thought-out Midpoint Shift shakes up the snow globe of the story, and in doing so it advances the narrative, refocuses a viewer’s/reader’s interest, heightens suspense, and – importantly – keeps readers turning pages.