Thriller Story Structure, Pt. 9: Midpoint
In a recent article, we examined the importance of the response, the key scenes and events in your thriller that occur after the setup. Of all the elements contained within the response, one of most critical yet least understood components is the midpoint.
Many thriller writers fail to develop an effective midpoint in their stories, or discount its importance and put minimal effort into drafting it. However, the midpoint is a powerful literary tool that can help you manage pacing, structure your story more effectively, and keep readers turning the pages. Let’s take a closer look at the midpoint, and why it’s a critical component of memorable thrillers.
Defining the Midpoint
So, just what is the midpoint? The midpoint is best described as “the location in the novel where new information enters the story . . .that changes the contextual experience and understanding of either the reader, the hero, or both.” It occurs during the response phase of the story. The newly revealed information, if presented effectively, affects the plot’s pacing and jolts readers, causing them to look at what is occurring in a new light.
The midpoint can and often is a sudden twist, but it doesn’t have to be. Writers get very creative when crafting midpoints in their thrillers. Here are a few examples:
- In Adam Nevill’s terrifying new thriller The Ritual, the midpoint occurs when protagonist Luke discovers that the seemingly benign people who “rescued” him are actually in league with the thing in the woods that slaughtered his companions.
- Gillian Flynn’s thriller Gone Girl uses a mind-blowing twist as a midpoint. For most of the novel, readers are led to believe that Protagonist Nick Dunne’s missing wife Amy is likely dead, and that unreliable narrator Nick may have killed her. Instead, the midpoint shockingly reveals Amy is alive, and has framed Nick in an elaborate revenge scheme.
- The midpoint in Ernest Cline’s instant classic Ready Player One occurs when protagonist Parzival, having temporarily halted the quest and been abandoned by his friends, receives information from one of his former companions. The new information allows him to continue the quest, reunite with them, and gets him back on track.
Placing the Midpoint
The midpoint occurs within the story response portion of the thriller. By the time readers reach the midpoint in a thriller, several things have already occurred: the protagonist has experienced the first plot point, and has changed forever due to the nature of the conflict; the setup is complete, and, moving into response, readers have gotten a glimpse of the antagonist power and motivation at the first pinch point; and since that point, the plot has advanced at a consistent pace and rhythm,
When the midpoint occurs, that steady pacing is shaken up a bit. Readers, and at times the characters are armed with new knowledge and a new perspective. They may have more resolve. The plot at this point typically enters a new phase, as it moves towards a final conflict and ultimate resolution.
The Midpoint’s Utility
What value does a midpoint add to a thriller? Lots, actually. The midpoint not only helps you tell your story more effectively, it aids you in writing it as well. Let’s look at why the midpoint is a useful literary tool when crafting a thriller.
The primary purpose of the story response phase of a novel is to carefully advance the plot. One of the challenges writers have during this portion of their story is keeping readers engaged. After all, the setup is done, and we’ve gotten a glimpse of the bad guy’s power during the first pinch point; what else is there? The new information and context a good midpoint provides can give readers a shock, and get them riveted to the story once again.
A carefully designed midpoint can also help you plot out the various scenes in your story response more effectively. If you begin your story response development with a clearly envisioned midpoint, you can develop all of the previous scenes back from that, all the way to the story setup. Determine everything that has to happen, and everything that readers must know, leading up to the midpoint. Then write each of those scenes.
You can also use the midpoint to determine the utility of the scenes leading up to the story response. As you review the story, ask yourself: does this scene help advance the plot towards the midpoint? Is this scene relevant and necessary to get the characters to the midpoint? If the answer to these questions is no, then consider revising the scene, or deleting it altogether This will help you craft a thriller that doesn’t bog down in the middle.
The midpoint is a powerful literary tool in your storytelling arsenal. You can use it to design a thriller that doesn’t lose readers in the middle. It can also help you surprise your audience, and get them energized as the story continues to advance. So take the time to craft an effective midpoint; it will keep your thriller moving the way it needs to be.