Our very special guest, Blake Snyder, author of the bestselling (and indispensable) Save The Cat! series of books on screenwriting, offers THE STORY SPOT’s readers guidance on that notoriously difficult pillar of any story: The Midpoint. (We’ve added the product links below to help you find your way.)
In both my Save the Cat! books and also my Save the Cat! Story Structure Software, I have stressed the vital importance of figuring out what the Midpoint of a screenplay is. I like to say that if you can crack the Midpoint, you can crack the story. And it may not be until you do that you truly know what your story is about!
To me, the day I discovered there is a secret to what happens at the midpoint in EVERY story, I was rocketed into a whole new dimension in my abilities as a writer.
There are two things that have to happen at the Midpoint, both vital to making your story work:
• “the stakes are raised,” and
• a “time clock” appears that accelerates the pace of the tale
Here are three classic examples of a Midpoint when both the “stakes are raised” and a “time clock” appears:
• In Titanic, Kate Winslet is a pampered Victorian debutante when she begins her journey, engaged to the wrong guy, tied to her fearful mother, suicidal, and then she meets him… Leonardo DiCaprio. For the first half of Act Two, she and Leo fall in love, and at midpoint, two key things happen: They make love (ending her relationship with Billy Zane) and, most importantly, the Titanic hits an iceberg. These two “stakes-are-raised” beats force Kate to decide, and mostly force her to change. Is she really in love with Leo? Is she really committed to leaving her mother’s world behind? Kate must figure it out — and fast! — because there is cold water rushing in, sinking the ship. Meanwhile, the captain, having learned his ship has hit a big ice cube, turns and asks “How much time do we have?” This “time clock” serves the function of accelerating the pace of the story to the end.
• These beats don’t just happen in dramas. In Bruce Almighty, the Midpoint occurs when Jim Carrey, as weatherman Bruce Nolan, realizes that the godly powers he got from Morgan Freeman have a price: He has to answer prayers too, not just get his own wishes granted! After his Midpoint peak – when he gets the job promotion he’s dreaming of — the “stakes are raised” in his adventure, and lo! a “time clock” appears as the number of prayers he must answer begin to accelerate.
• And in Alien, the Midpoint is the moment when, having previously thought John Hurt had sloughed off the monster who grabbed onto his face while he was leaning over a hatching alien egg, we see John sitting at dinner with the rest of the crew of the Nostromo when suddenly the monster pops out of his chest, takes a look around, and scampers away into the darkness. Talk about “stakes are raised”! The annoying inconvenience of picking up an alien hitchhiker just got a lot more serious, and guess what else? The “time clock” of having to track that thing down and kill it before it morphs into a bigger problem starts ticking away like mad.
There are lots of new tricks about the Midpoint that I will be discussing in Save the Cat! Strikes Back, the third – and final! – Cat! book on screenwriting out in 2009! These include some other key moments that are all part of what I’m calling the “magical Midpoint.” These include such amazing, and frequently seen, recurring patterns as:
• The “boy and girl kiss” scene – and why it MUST occur.
• The Midpoint Party – so many movies have a “party” here – why?
• Bad Guys Learn the Good Guy’s “secret” and
• The Hero decides to “die” – in some form or fashion his “death” is on its way!
And I hope you will all tune in to the latest – and BEST Cat! yet – when it is published!
For now know that tracking your Midpoint is the key to figuring out not only where your story goes, but what it means. By forcing these “stakes-are-raised” moments on your protagonists, and laying in the accompanying “time clocks” that put pressure on them to decide what to do, you may make their lives more difficult, but you also force them to address the changes that will truly make them worthy of the term “hero.”
Thank you, Blake, for your contribution to our community of writers and story consultants written just for us. Blake’s post is, of course, just a taste of his more expansive story theory and ties in nicely to our recent thoughts on heroes, conflict, and keeping your story motor running. Readers, be sure to check Blake Snyder’s official site to get your copy of his next book when it’s hot off the presses.
Bestselling Screenwriting Author Blake Snyder’s Official Site: http://www.blakesnyder.com
Update: Blake Snyder passed away in 2009. He will be missed. His contributions to writers and their craft will forever be acknowledged and appreciated. You may contribute to the Save the Cat Memorial Fund set up in his honor here.