The basic idea is quite simple and quite powerful. At the midpoint of your story, something needs to change profoundly in your lead character.
Jim calls it the “look in the mirror” moment. The lead character takes stock of himself in one of two ways:
• He asks a “What kind of person am I?” kind of question. This often has other aspects, such as “Where am I going if I continue this way?”
• He realizes that he is facing death of some kind—real physical death, career death, psychological death.
Either way, the lead character then makes a decision, and that gives him a new direction for the second half of the novel.
That decision can take him in the right direction or the wrong direction, but it must take him in a new direction.
One of the examples Jim gives is Rick in the movie Casablanca. In the first half of the movie, Rick has been a drunk, a saloon owner who lives by the motto, “I stick my neck out for nobody.”
But Rick’s old lover Ilsa has come to Casablanca, and Rick learns that she’s married—to a leader of the Resistance. Ilsa and hubby are on the run, and they need Rick’s help. And Rick isn’t about to stick his neck out. Especially not after Ilsa dumped him.
At the midpoint of the movie, Rick is getting drunk late one night and Ilsa shows up to beg for help. Rick turns her down flat, insults her, and generally treats her like a lowlife. After she leaves in tears, Rick has his mirror moment, right at the midpoint of the movie.
Rick realizes that he’s a jerk. Sure, Ilsa dumped him, but she had a good reason. She had thought she was a widow when she met him. She fell in love with him. Then she found out her husband was still alive. She had to dump Rick, in love with him or not.
The question is, what’s Rick going to do about it now? Is he going to stick his neck out to save Ilsa? Is he going to start living again? Or is he going to stay in the same old rut?
Rick changes his direction. It’s only at the end of the movie that it becomes clear just how much that direction changes, but he starts changing right away.
Jim gives a number of other examples in his book, which I highly recommend that you read.
He also suggests that if you know that midpoint episode in your story, you can work backward to develop the backstory that made the character who he is. You can also work forward to the transformation your character must go through by the end.
This gives you a beginning, a middle, and an ending for your story. The bones to build your novel around.
It sounds like a nice theory, and it’s a new way of thinking for me. Over the next few months, I’ll be mulling Jim’s ideas and trying to apply them to my own writing.
There’s a simplicity about this model that I like. Ask me a year from now how well it’s worked out for me in practice. For sure, I’ll be testing it on the book I’m working on right now.
About The Author
Randy Ingermanson is a theoretical physicist and the award-winning author of six novels. He has taught at numerous writing conferences over the years and publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, the largest electronic magazine in the world on the craft of writing fiction, with over 11000 readers.
Randy is best known for his "Snowflake Method" of designing a novel. The "Snowflake" page on his web site has been viewed more than 514,000 times over the years.
Randy believes that prepublished novelists fall into four distinct stages, Freshmen, Sophomores, Juniors, and Seniors. Each of these stages has its own unique needs. Have you been a Freshman longer than you think you should? Or are you stuck in a Sophomore slump? If you'd like to move up to that pesky "next level, check out Randy's acclaimed lecture series, Fiction 101 and Fiction 201. Don't settle for where you are! Take action today.
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