My first introduction to the importance of the midpoint of a story was in a workshop given by Michael Hauge. He described it as The Point of No Return, both in the external plot and the internal development of the character. Internally, it’s the moment when the character realises he’s closer – fractionally – to the person s/he will be at the end of the story than s/he was at the beginning. Externally, it’s the moment when the story has to go forward in a particular direction. There’s no going back.
For example, in the movie Dante’s Peak, the midpoint combines both these moments in a very clever scene. In the external plot, we’re told that the sign the volcano will definitely blow is when sulphur gets into the water system. In the internal plot, since his girlfriend was killed several years ago, the Pierce Brosnan character has been unable – or unwilling – to become involved in another relationship. At the exact midpoint of the movie, Pierce Brosnan returns from a date with the Linda Hamilton character. It’s his first date since his girlfriend died, showing that he’s finally willing to take a second chance on love. They’re about to share a kiss when her young son comes downstairs and asks for a glass of water. When they turn on the tap, the water is tainted by sulphur. We now know the volcano must blow.
Open Pride and Prejudice about half-way through and you’ll find the scene where Darcy proposes to Elizabeth in the most pompous fashion. Of course she turns him down and tells him exactly why she’s rejecting him, particularly for his treatment of Mr. Wickham. The next day, having taken her comments to heart, Darcy returns and gives Elizabeth a letter, acknowledging his pride and putting her right on Wickham. Reflecting on the letter and her own prejudice in the next chapter, she admits, ‘Till this moment, I never knew myself.’ (In fact, when I opened my copy of P&P from my university days, I discovered I had underlined those lines and written – moral climax of book.)
James Scott Bell calls this Midpoint in the internal story The Mirror Moment. The moment (not a scene) when: The character is forced to look at himself. As if in a mirror, only it’s a reflection of who he is at that moment in time. Who am I? What have I become? What do I have to do to regain my humanity? Sometimes, it’s the character looking at the odds. How can I possibly win? It looks like I’m going to die—physically or spiritually. Now what am I supposed to do?
Sometimes, James Scott Bell says, it can be a moment when he actually looks in a mirror and sees – really sees – himself.
This mirror moment can also been illustrated in movies – sometimes literally. I’ve just been watching a great 3 part series on movie music called Sound of Cinema: The Music That Made The Movies. In it, composer David Arnold talks about the challenge of writing the music for the reboot of the James Bond movies starring Daniel Craig. He describes the first in the series, Casino Royale, as an ‘origin’ tale of how Bond becomes the spy we know and love. Because of that, he decided he couldn’t use the famous John Barry theme in full until the final scene, but would use snippets throughout to show Bond’s development into the character we have come to know.
And one of these scenes was when Bond, in his first tailored tux, looks at himself in the mirror. I mentioned this to some of my writing friends and wondered if there was any chance the scene happened in the middle of the film. My friend, screenwriter Carol Mulholland, pulled the script off the internet. Taking into consideration scenes that were never shown, the mirror scene happens… at the midpoint of the script.
So, there you have it. In a book or in a movie, the mirror moment can, literally, be the moment when the character sees himself as who he is – or is becoming – in a mirror.