THE MIDPOINT

Look at any diagram of three-act-structure and you’ll find two main turning/plot points (Act One into Act Two/ Act Two into Act Three) and a midpoint.

Michael Hauge calls the midpoint, the Point of No Return (PONR). In aviation terms, the Point of No Return is that point in a flight where the aircraft does not have enough fuel to return to its point of departure, and must make it to its destination safely or crash and burn.

At the PONR in a story, something happens in the ‘plot’ that will turn the story around and take it fractionally closer to the end than the beginning. There is no going back. For example, in a mystery novel, it might be a clue that finally puts the detective on the right path to solving the crime.

When it comes to character development, something will happen here that allows the character to become closer to the person he will be at the end of the story than he was in the beginning.

James Scott Bell calls this the ‘Mirror Moment’. He says: ‘What I detect is a character point, something internal, which has the added benefit of bonding audience and character on a deeper level.’ It’s a moment, not a whole scene. He also says, the midpoint of your story is where your character faces some kind of death.

  • Physical – where there is a real threat to his life.
  • Professional – where his reputation is on the line.
  • Psychological – where something inside the character changes.

JK Rowling says, ‘It is our choices that show us what we truly are, far more than our abilities,’ and it will be at this point in the story where a character makes a choice – or understands the ramifications of past choices – that gives them a glimpse of who they truly are, or want to be. It is the moment of transformation from who the character was, to who they will become. It’s when they get the chance to look in a metaphorical mirror and see themselves in a new light.

CASINO ROYALE: There are stories where the character doesn’t change/arc – James Bond. Hercule Poirot. Indiana Jones. Miss Marple – but every rule comes with an exception. Casino Royale – the version with Daniel Craig – tells the story of how James Bond becomes ‘James Bond’, so the character does arc in this story. Check out this ‘mirror moment’ in Casino Royale – halfway through the movie – which actually uses a mirror!

Look at the dress Bond brings for Vesper Lynd to wear. It’s on a plastic hanger and looks like it’s just come from the dry cleaner’s. Compare that with the tuxedo she has for him. And that moment, when he wears a tailored suit for the first time ever, watch his reaction when he looks at himself in the mirror. He’s seeing himself a little differently. Interestingly enough, this is the first time you will hear the strains of the Bond theme in this movie.

Contrast that with the last scene in the movie where he is fully revealed as ‘James Bond’ and we hear to whole theme for the first time.

 

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE: Open Pride and Prejudice half way through the book and you will find a couple of scenes: 1) Where Darcy visits Elizabeth and offers her a horrible proposal of marriage. 2) Where Elizabeth reads the letter Darcy writes to her following her refusal of his offer.

The title Pride and Prejudice tells you what the book is about. Both Darcy and Elizabeth are proud people – he of his wealth and position, she of her ‘discernment’. For them to end up together at the end of the book, they’ll both have to find a bit of humility and get rid of their prejudices.

And the first stirrings of that happens in the middle of the story. Darcy is so shocked by Elizabeth’s refusal – ‘And this,’ cried Darcy, as he walked with quick steps across the room, ‘is your opinion of me!’ – that he goes home and writes Elizabeth a letter explaining the truth about Wickham. After she finishes reading it, Elizabeth says, ‘ How despicably have I acted!’ she cried. ‘I who prided myself on my discernment…. Till this moment, I never knew myself.’

(Ironically, there is a mirror in this scene!)

Elizabeth and Darcy still have a long way to go before that second – successful – proposal at the end of the book, but at the midpoint of the story, they cross that line from being who they were, and how they saw themselves and each other, to who they will be by the end.

THE HUNGER GAMES: Set in a dystopian future, Katniss Evergreen volunteers to take her younger sister’s place in the murderous Hunger Games, where out of 24 participants, only one victor will be left alive at the end.

Midway through the book/film, Katniss finds herself facing physical death. She has no weapons – except for a knife – is trapped up a tree, and is literally waiting to die when daylight comes. Then something happens which can change her fortune, but only if she decides to go for it. Watch carefully for that ‘moment’ when Katniss realizes she has a chance to live. By the end of the scene, she has a weapon she is skilled in using, has killed some of her deadliest opponents, and has allies in Rue and Peeta.

DANTE’S PEAK: A perfect example of when the midpoint of action and character development meets beautifully. (Unfortunately there is no Youtube link for this.)

A mountain is threatening to erupt, but the scientists won’t know for sure until sulphur gets into the water supply. Hero and heroine have been badly hurt in previous relationships and wary of becoming involved with anyone again.

Midpoint of the story is when hero and heroine come back from enjoying an evening at the bar. She sends the babysitter home and invites him in for coffee. Both are nervous – ‘I haven’t been with anyone in a long time.’ – and are leaning in for their first kiss when her daughter calls down from upstairs. She’s thirsty. Can she have a glass of water? The heroine turns on the tap. It’s contaminated with sulphur.

The mountain is now going to blow – not right this minute – but there is no doubt it’s going to go.

Hero and heroine have taken the joint risk to open up their hearts again. (In a love story, the midpoint is often where the hero and heroine will kiss or make love.)

Walking the Labyrinth – Calgary

A labyrinth? Here in Calgary?

Who knew!

I had always assumed (incorrectly, as it turns out) that labyrinth was just another word for a maze – a maze offers you choices, while a labyrinth has only one track leading in and out – and was intrigued to discover there are several to be found here in Calgary.

Labyrinths have been around for thousands of years, featuring in ancient tales and legends as well as being a spiritual tool used in many religions.

When it comes to stories, perhaps the most famous labyrinth was that in Crete where Theseus killed the Minotaur. Briefly, every nine years, King Minos of Crete demanded that the city of Athens send seven young boys and seven young maidens to Crete to be devoured by the Minotaur – a half man, half bull creature – in recompense for a previous war. The third time this happened, Theseus volunteered to take the place of one of the youths and vowed to kill the Minotaur. (If something about this tale sounds familiar, I found an interview with Suzanne Collins, the author of the highly successful Hunger Games trilogy, where she acknowledges the Minotaur myth as one of the inspirations for her book.)

Perhaps the most famous religious labyrinth is to be found in Chartres Cathedral in France. Apparently, about one thousand years ago, when it became to unsafe for Christians to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, pilgrims began visiting the big cathedrals in Europe; Chartres, Canterbury and Santiago de Compostello. Somewhere between 1200-1240 a labyrinth was laid in the floor of Chartres which became known as The Road to Jerusalem. Not a maze, but a single track, it provided an opportunity for the faithful to replicate a pilgrimage to the Holy Land by following the path on their knees while praying.

But what has this to do with Calgary?

CHURCHONE

Knox United Church, Calgary

The labyrinth in Knox United Church, in the heart of Calgary’s downtown, is open to all – Christian or not – from Monday-Friday, 9am-7pm, and is based on the Chartres labyrinth.

When I visited the labyrinth yesterday, I walked it twice. The first time was from sheer curiosity: Was there really only one way in and out?  Did I cover every section of the intricate design?

 

LAB

The Labyrinth, Knox United Church, Calgary

The second time I decided to take it a little more seriously. According to the pamphlet provided by the church, the labyrinth is a unique spiritual tool that can be used to:
deepen self-knowledge
relieve stress and clear the mind
empower creativity
calm people in life transitions
awaken the spirit within
bring forth spiritual healing
open a path to action

I’m not religious, but I turned on the CD that is provided and tried to quiet my mind. There is no right or wrong way to walk the labyrinth, but I found that by just taking my time and concentrating, at the end of 20 minutes I returned once more to the entrance of the labyrinth feeling calm and relaxed.

CENTRE

The centre of the labyrinth, Knox United Church, Calgary.

The labyrinth in Knox United Church is not the only one in Calgary; there are several more, including an outdoor one in Sarcee Park. If you’re interested in finding one near you, please check out this worldwide labyrinth locator.