The Importance of the MidPoint in Your Screenplay Story

The midpoint is the “high” before the fall. It provides a breakthrough point for the hero, a shift in the dramatic conflict, and relief from the relentless resistance of the first half of the second act.

What is going on at the midpoint?

As the story moves into the second act, the hero tries to solve the problem and achieve his goal in the easiest possible way – and he fails. So, he makes another attempt, and he fails again. He tries something different and still he fails. With each attempt he is faced with mounting obstacles, increasing complications, and rising conflict. No matter what he does, he is unable to achieve his goal.

When the hero hits the midpoint he is exhausted. He has reached a breaking point, which allows him to experience a breakthrough. Similar to the first and second turning points, the incident or event at the midpoint creates a dramatic shift. The protagonist’s internal reaction to this event helps him understand how his fatal flaw is impacting the conflict and preventing him from reaching his goal – and the hero begins to discover how the conflict can be resolved.

In other words, the protagonist can now see the light at the end of the tunnel and how to reach it. The midpoint event may make the hero reconsider who he is and what he believes in. And it forces him to re-evaluate his strategy. It motivates him to take a new approach to the problem. The midpoint clarifies and reveals the theme (through the protagonist’s actions and reactions) and shows the hero embracing and moving toward that truth.

Robert Towne creates a classic midpoint revelation in the screenplay Chinatown. Midway through the story, Jake Gittes figures out the water department is siphoning off water and redirecting it. In this scene, Gittes goes from being both literally and figuratively unconscious (when he’s knocked out) to being enlightened (when he “comes to”). The revelation causes the hero to formulate a new plan; he now knows what to do to begin solving the mystery.

What incident occurs midway through your story that shifts the conflict and sets the protagonist on a new path? Does your midpoint effectively clarify and reveal the theme?