Halfway Point – Impact, Processing and Change


There are  a lot of articles on the internet that talk about the halfway point. People will analysis it ad-infinum, will talk about it’s emotional structure, how the plot moves forwards from here on out, ect.

For me, I think the structure of a midway point has a lot to do with reader patience, and the ability of the writer to not repeat themselves.

If every character that ever tried to fix their problem succeeded, there would be no stories. So by virtue of there being a story, character have to fail, and thus look for another way forwards.

If the character continues to fail, continues to not make any proper progress, eventually reader patience is going to run out. It’s like supporting a friend in a crisis – if they’re not at the point where they can help themselves, you eventually get tired of being there. That doesn’t mean you leave – this is your friend, you love and care for them.

Unfortunately, the obligation and connection that a person has with a friend is not one they nessercarily have with your book.

So what to do? Let’s look at the size of an average novel. 80k, or thereabouts. Let’s say it takes a person a week to read that much – they’ve dedicated 3.5 theoretical days to your character’s woes.

If your character doesn’t have a plan? Doesn’t have resolve? Hasn’t figured out what everything’s all about (or thinks they have)? Hasn’t pushed through and dealt with the emotional angst that is coming through all this failing?

Well the reader better adore your character. Because they’re not going to stick around otherwise.

So the midpoint, to me, is a change in tone. It’s when the character stops just reacting, and starts planning. They start looking at their other options. They process some of the emotional trauma that’s been dealt to them over the past 40k.

The character has been active previously to this – but they’ve been actively reacting. Trying to ride the back of the bucking dragon, so to speak. At this point, they hop off. They check over their scars, process what they’ve learnt from all this reacting, and then they go off to figure out how to kill said dragon.

Because again, unless your readers love your character like a friend they’ve loved for years? They’re not going to stick around for endless riding-of-the-dragon.

Note that there was a emotional component to all this. This is important. there is no point to your character running off into the second half of the book if they don’t have the time and the quiet to process the first half of the book.

This is why the midpoint is normally big. Its generally action packed. It does three things by being the massive, big event that it is:

  1. It lets the protagonist know that the reacting thing isn’t working. Something has to change
  2. It provides a massive moment of impact. This in itself helps to hold up the middle of the book. But the impact provides something else:
  3. It means that the reader will be ready for breathing space.

Yep. Breathing space. The first half of your book only matters if it feeds into the makeup of the main character and informs what they do in the second half.

This means the main character has to have a moment to process the chaos that has been their life over the first half of the book. And this processing is important – it needs time. And not only does your big moment in the middle signal to the main character that things aren’t working, not only is it a spectacular moment of impact in and of itself, but it allows for a quiet moment to follow.

If you’re hit the reader over the head with your moment of impact, they’ll let you have a moment afterwards where your characters process things. In fact, they’ll almost be expecting it, because they’re human too. They also take a moment when life hits them in places that hurt.

So let your characters do the same. Given them their moment, their processing time. And then have them make a decision. Have the strike out. Because something obviously needs to change. And if they keep doing the same thing, over and over again, you’re going to loose people.

After all, your main character is not the reader’s childhood friend. They’re not going to stick around forever waiting for them to sort their sh*t out.


Image via Flickr, by Jenny Mealing

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