Screenwriters Beginners,  Story Structure

How to find the Midpoint in two Steps – Story Structure

Midpoint is, as the word says, the plot point in the middle of the story.

Even though we’re talking about 3 acts, the midpoint divides the second act into two equal parts. So, the 3-act structure is basically 4 acts.

The midpoint is not just the major plot point of Act 2. It is also one of the most important plot points in the entire story, it’s the Queen of plot points!


What is the midpoint?

The midpoint can be an event, an incident or even a decision that the protagonist makes, that raises the stakes and puts him/her to a point where there is no return. In the midpoint things need to intensify, otherwise the story would be very boring from now on. That’s why at this point the problems have to be renewed, and the stakes need to be raised.

The midpoint is usually a point where the choice that the protagonist makes, is important and cannot be undone. Once the protagonist comes in this step he or she cannot go back. The protagonist can only go forward. That’s why it is also called “The point of no return”.

According to screenwriting analysts, in the midpoint the protagonist usually has a false victory or a false defeat. According to suggestions from Pixar artists, in the middle of the story the protagonist has either a victory or a defeat. The victory makes the protagonist happy, but soon proves to be false and he/she has to work harder now. The defeat disappoints the protagonist but soon realises that what happened was actually a good thing. This often happens because what the protagonist wants is not always what he/she needs. Not everything we think we want is what we actually need in the end. So, this false victory or defeat serves the protagonist to realise -a little later in the story- his/her real needs.

The Midpoint can also be the point where the protagonist is having an introspective moment, a look at oneself, inside him/her, and even having an identity crisis or a question.

Moreover, according to Blake Snyder’s book “Save the Cat” sometimes in the midpoint the two major storylines or else the two major subplots are crossing each other. Since nothing in a story should be random -stories are not life, they just imitate it- all subplots that added in a story should serve a specific reason. In the midpoint it’s always good these subplots to meet each other and understand why they are there in the first place.

Characteristics of the Midpoint:

  1. It raises the stakes
  2. Point of no return
  3. False victory / false defeat
  4. Subplots crossing each other
  5. Introspective moment

The Mirror Point – False rule:

Many claim that the midpoint should mirror the ending of the story, and that’s why they also call it “the mirror point”. If it’s a happy ending, that is if the protagonist wins in the end, then in the middle there’s also a winning, and if it’s a bad ending, in the middle there’s also a defeat.

However, personally, I wouldn’t consider this as a “rule” or “characteristic” of story structure. Half stories have it, half not, so I would say that it’s mostly coincidental -if you think about it it would be either good or bad, so there’s 50% chances to prove that such a rule exists, and 50% to disprove it. On the other hand, I believe that the MOST important element in story structure is always: THE STORY ITSELF! Try not to forget that. Not all stories are the same, every story has its own needs. Try to “listen” to your story and not just follow blindly these kind of “rules”.

Keep also in mind that not all of the above characteristics are used every time. Sometimes it’s a combination of some of them.
When you’re writing your own stories, try to create a strong combination as possible for your midpoint.

Having said all of the above, let’s start from the basics.

Method How to Find Midpoint:

Here’s how you can find the midpoint in two steps:

  1. The midpoint is always near the middle of the story. So, calculate the middle of the story by dividing in half the total minutes of the film. BUT this is not enough, because the midpoint sometimes it can be 5 to 10 minutes sooner or later than the exact middle. That’s why you also need to take Step 2 as well.
  2. Try to think the story of the protagonist as a straight line and find where it begins and where it ends. If the beginning is A and the end is C, then what B is? What could be in the middle? Use your logic here and try to think what would rationally would be in the middle.
How to find midpoint in 2 steps

The Godfather example of Method

For example: in The Godfather the protagonist, Michael Corleone, begins as a man who wants nothing to do with the mafia and he likes to stay clean and decent but in the end of the film he has become the worst crime boss ever. He doesn’t even hesitate to kill family members (his sister’s husband) which is something that his father would never do.

So, in A we have a very decent man and in C he has become the ultimate Godfather. What do you think goes in the middle of such a journey, from A to C, from good to bad?

Yes, you’re right, it’s the first killing! The first time he commits a murder. And because in this first murder, he also has “good” reasons to do it, to protect his father and his family, one could say that in the middle he’s neither good nor bad. However, it’s still a murder. Something has changed inside him now, something has “cracked” his personality, his integrity.

This is the first step he takes towards becoming a bad person.

Let’s see some more examples from movies:

The Silence of the Lambs

In the Silence of the Lambs, both stories, the story of Clarice and the other of Hannibal have significant progress.

What is the Midpoint in the movie the Silence of the Lambs?
What is the Midpoint in the movie the Silence of the Lambs?

At the beginning, Clarice is an FBI trainee and in the end she finds the serial killer Buffalo Bill and kills him. In the middle she makes a deal with another serial killer, Hannibal Lecter, to help her catch Buffalo Bill and he gives her important information for his identity. He hints that Buffalo Bill may not be a transsexual although he thinks he is and he wants to change.

Hannibal, on the other hand, in the beginning, is in prison, but in the end he has escaped. In the middle, Hannibal makes a deal and he is being transferred to Memphis, which is his plan in order to escape prison.

What is more, the killer’s next victim is the daughter of a senator. So, in the middle the stakes have risen in all subplots substantially.

Catch me if you can

What is the Midpoint in the movie Catch me if you can?
What is the Midpoint in the movie Catch me if you can?

In Catch me if you can the FBI agent Carl Hanratty is trying to catch Frank, the most brilliant forger in US history. In this journey to catch him, what else could be in the middle than finding out who he actually is! At the midpoint, Carl visits Frank’s mother and finds out the name of the infamous robber, his age and his family.

But Carl’s want is different than Frank’s want. Frank in the beginning left his family and in the end he will have a new “family”, as in the face of Carl he will find the father he always needed. So, in the middle of the story, from Frank’s side, he realises he feels very lonely and on Christmas Eve he has no one to call but Carl. He’s almost ready to be caught and reveals to him where he is, but Carl thinks he’s lying again and doesn’t even try to search him. The realisation of his loneliness will soon urge him to decide to get settled, get married and make his own family, but once more he will realise that this will not work either.

If you prefer videos, here’s the new episode on the Midpoint from Scriptwriting Tips. Enjoy!

One Comment

  • Esther

    Thank you for this! It’s a simple explanation for something that seems terribly complicated when you’re in the “middle” of it (haha). Super helpful!

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