Can you catch the Midpoint?
The Midpoint game is simple: next time you’re watching a movie, see if you can spot the “midpoint.” Try it first with a movie you’ve already seen – that favorite movie that you’ve already watched a million times is a great choice! (Hint: it usually happens right in the middle of the movie. Try to spot it without looking at your watch, though – if you’re checking the time every 2 minutes it is hard to enjoy the movie)
Compelling stories explore complex ideas that get to the core of the human condition through the experiences of a character.. By the end of a story, the character – and hopefully the audience – has become a little bit wiser. In most modern stories, a protagonist tries to solve a new problem with a Prevailing Notion – an old way of thinking – that ultimately fails. As a character navigates through the story, though, she is exposed to a New Wisdom: a way of thinking that will ultimately help her solve the original problem.
The Midpoint Sequence marks the middle of this journey, and often happens right in the middle of the story. As a marker for the thematic transition from the prevailing notion to the new wisdom, the midpoint generally shows a shift in a character’s mindset in a profound and purposeful way. She is usually unsure of herself at this point, but in a struggle to solve a problem, she expresses the new idea and succeeds. From this point, her mind is changed: she is convinced of the new way, and for the rest of the story, she will grow in her ability to use and share this new wisdom.
Sounds complicated? It really isn’t, check out an example of a midpoint in Disney’s Moana.
You’ll probably notice that a character’s change in philosophy generally isn’t abrupt – it changes over the course of a story. In most stories, protagonists are in constant conflict between a prevailing notion and a new wisdom. Before the midpoint, the character is aware of the new wisdom, but doesn’t fully understand or trust it.
The conflict that tends to be embodied by conversations the protagonist has with other characters in the cast. In Disney’s Moana, for instance, Gramma Tala, a sage character, introduces the new wisdom in the beginning, but it doesn’t really make sense to Moana – or us, the audience – until she goes on the adventure. Over the course of the movie, we can see the prevailing worldview (represented by her father) gradually give way to the philosophy of her grandmother.
Over the course of the narrative, we’ll consistently see the old notion fail and the new wisdom succeed in the protagonist’s decisions. We can think of the Midpoint space as a marker: starting at this point, the heroine is going to change the balance of her decision making to rely on the new wisdom more than the prevailing notion
Consider some more complex problems with Midpoints in the Think About It questions below. Once you’re a master of spotting midpoints (or at least starting to get the hang of it) move on to lesson 2 to see how breaking a story into acts helps a narrative explore ideas in a structured way.
Think about it…
Identifying midpoints in movies is fun (at least, it is if you’re nerds like us). Here are a few other things we like to consider when thinking about midpoints:
1. What kinds of Midpoints are common in different genres?
The Incredibles is a classic hero movie with heroes, villains, and a battle for good over evil, so the midpoint takes the form of a battle. What do midpoints look like in rom-coms, horror stories, historical biographies, or other types of movies and stories?
2. How do Midpoint sequences work with ensemble casts?
Ensemble movies typically have a midpoint for each of the main characters. For instance, in The Incredibles, Helen, Mrs. Incredible, struggles to keep up appearances trying to convince the world her family is normal. In the end, she learns to accept and celebrate her family members for their unique gifts. How do midpoints work in ensemble casts? Hint, look at movies like Guardians of the Galaxy or Toy Story, and shows like How I Met Your Mother or Orange is the New Black.
3. What Midpoints can you identify in your own stories?
Think about a challenge that you’ve overcome lately in your live (big or small). If you were telling a friend about this challenge, what part of the story would you choose as a compelling midpoint?