The midpoint is a particular moment that occurs roughly halfway through the screenplay. It can be represented by one scene or more and it is a very important turning point that changes the course of the story.
As an example, let’s take the midpoint of the one and only decent transformers movie ever made, Bumblebee, which occurs 1 hour and 10 minutes into the movie.
Break the story in half
In the book Save the cat, Blake Snyder says that the midpoint is placed in the middle of the story for a reason: breaking the script into two parts.
The first part introduces the audience to the hero, the villain, their world and whatever revenge/ambition/McGuffin/princess in a castle they’re trying to obtain. However, the second part is the one where one of them finally gets what he wants: hero rescues princess, villain kills hero, world doesn’t blow up, city gets destroyed etc…
But how do we go from point A (introducing the characters and their motivations) to point B (the characters get what they want)?
That’s what the midpoint is here for. It’s the pivotal moment that changes the tone of the story and raises the stakes.
Maybe before the protagonist was safe and sound, now he’s going to spend half of the movie running from the villain. Maybe the villain’s plan was working beautifully and all he had to do was twirl his mustache while petting his cat, now he has to work hard to stop the protagonist.
In Bumblebee, the first half is light-hearted fun, while the second half is action-packed and has higher stakes.
Sometimes the midpoint comes in the way of a shocking revelation. Tell me if any of those scenarios sound familiar:
– the hero spent most of the time trying to stop the villain from achieving his goal, it turns out now that it was all a distraction and the true plan has just been revealed
– the protagonist finds out that his love interest has been hiding something or is secretly ashamed of their relationship and have a big fight
– the meek and docile “chosen one” finally figures out the true purpose of his powers and is more ready than ever to fight the villain
– The terrible secret/behavior of our hero is exposed and causes a fracture between him and his group of friends
As I said before, the midpoint is supposed to change the tone of the story and raise the stakes, only an extraordinary event like a revelation can do that.
Before the midpoint, Bumblebee and Charlie were having fun: pulling pranks, meeting new people, etc… But then something happens.
Bumblebee ends up (involuntarily) trashing Charlie’s house and she seems to realize for the first time that he can’t stay with her forever.
After this, she finds out that Bumblebee is being hunted down by both the government and other aliens named Decepticons. Not only he can’t stay with her anymore, but he is in danger.
Ups and Downs
According to Snyder, there are two types of midpoint: the false victory (Up) and the false defeat (Down). Those have to both be “false” because we’re still in the middle of the story, and we can’t have the villain really defeat the hero this early, can we?
The false victory is exactly what it sounds: the protagonist thinks that he’s made it big or won the affection of his love interest, but after a few minutes things will start changing.
The false defeat is a little bit more nuanced. It could be a literal defeat by the hands of the villain or a moral defeat from his own allies. A betrayal, a pep talk from a friend who’s tired of his BS, a break up with the love interest. Anything that gets him down.
For Charlie, that would be the fight with her mother. She has spent the first hour of the movie sulking about not being able to fit into her new family, now she has her mother yelling at her for not making an effort to fit in.
“Everyone in this family is trying to be happy and all you wanna do is make things harder”– Bumblebee
At the midpoint, Charlie and her mother yell at each other things that they have been boiling inside them the whole time. But instead of solving their problems, this makes them worse. So Charlie ends up jumping in her beetle and leaving the house miserable and lonely.
Is the midpoint necessary?
Well, it’s not necessary, but it’s not useless either. The second act of a story is usually the longest one and, even if it’s packed with action scenes, explosions, soap-opera-style drama, and thrilling experiences, it might end up being boring.
Act 1 and act 3 have their own functions: 1 has to introduce the characters and 3 has to show what happens to them in the end. Act 2 is simply the bridge that shows how the characters that we’ve come to know and love manage to reach their happy/bittersweet/sad ending.
But you can’t have the characters repeat the same actions over and over again.
It’s hard to keep an audience interested in the story if the events in the story keep repeating themselves. You can’t have our criminals run from the police for 50 minutes straight, or have two lovers make out for 40 minutes, or have a superhero fly in the sky for 30 minutes.
You need to have something that breaks the boredom, and that something is the midpoint. The event that shakes the earth under the protagonist’s feet and keeps the audience engaged.