The middle of the book. This is where the magic happens. This is where the protagonist is wholly in and must figure out how to resolve the situation or he will suffer some kind of death. By death, I don’t necessarily mean that he dies physically. He could ruin his career (occupational death), fail in a relationship (death of a relationship), fail at doing something he’s wanted to do all his life, and, of course, his own real death. This list isn’t as limiting as all that. There are plenty of ways that the protagonist can “die” and that is where the tension can be built up. The closer we get to where this “death” can occur, the more ratcheted the tension becomes until we, the reader, can empathize with him and begin to root for him.
Now that the protagonist is committed to action or risk “death”, he must learn everything he needs to do to defeat the antagonistic force. I say force because the antagonist doesn’t have to be a person or monster. It can come in the guise of the weather, as in the movie Twister, or even be the protagonist himself. At this point in the story, the protagonist has to get an idea of exactly what he may be up against. This might take a bit of time. In the movie, Antman, Scott (Paul Rudd’s character) must learn how to use the ant suit and how to control other ants. This would also be where the 80’s montage would be in the movies. The protagonist is going through the motions trying to learn the thing that the mentor character is teaching and mostly failing. In Zootopia, it’s Judy Hopps going through her day as a meter maid doing her best to hand out 200 tickets and even succeeding a bit…until the next day, when everything seems to go wrong.
In both of the above examples, the risk of death hovers over them. Judy must find Mr. Otterton or lose her job. Scott must figure out how to become Ant-man or risk going back to prison. In most cases, that death is stasis. The protagonists want to move forward, though at first, most are pretty reluctant. Scott has no desire to be the Antman, he also thinks it sounds really stupid. Judy isn’t the reluctant one, but her boss is. He’s the one that she has to overcome to break out of the stasis.
Once the protagonist figures out what it is that he must do, he reaches the Midpoint. This is the time where the protagonist goes from reactive to proactive. Yeah, that’s pretty vague if you ask me. I get that they need to be proactive versus reactive, but what does that really mean in a story? How does the protagonist do it? How do you as the author make him be proactive?
First, you have to realize just what the protagonist has been doing the entire story. Up to this point, the protagonist has been under the tutelage of some sort of mentor. Judy has Nick and Scott has Dr. Pym. They’re the ones that actually teach the protagonists what they need to know in order to resolve their respective dilemmas. Judy, whose dream it was to become a real cop, realizes at one point that she has the tools she needs to find Mr. Otterton. All she has to do if follow the leads she found with her new friend Nick. Now she has suddenly become proactive in her pursuit of her goal.
But, Lee, you’re saying, what is the difference between what she was doing before the realization hit her and after? That’s a very good question. The difference in this case is that she was reacting to the threat of the loss of her job up to that point. Now that Nick had her back and she was relatively confident that she wasn’t going to lose it, she became proactive without the threat looming over her. She knew that her leads were solid and with her new partner, she was going to find out where Mr. Otterton went.
In this Midpoint, the protagonists have a moment where they reflect on what they’ve done so far. I’ve heard this called the Mirror Moment in film because sometimes, the protagonist is looking at himself hard wondering why his efforts aren’t taking him anywhere. There may not be a mirror physically, but she does have a moment (even though it is a split second) where she reflects on her predicament. It is just after Nick escorts her to the sky car and that moment of silence when she realizes what that meant for her. Nick saved her career for the moment and now with her leads in hand, she can get on with finding the next clue to getting them where they need to go to find Mr. Otterton and proving Chief Bogo wrong.
In the next article, I’ll finish up the second act after the Midpoint.
Thanks for reading and I hope this has helped you a bit as it did for me.