The midpoint high is a plot beat that’s easy to miss and even easier to get wrong.
WHAT IS THE MIDPOINT HIGH?
The midpoint high happens literally at the middle of the story. It’s an excellent tool to let the reader know where they are.
Just before the middle of the story, the characters encounter a big conflict and overcome it, creating a huge sense of victory. They did it! This is all going to work out!
This is your midpoint high.
DEFINING THE MIDPOINT HIGH
On the first side of the midpoint is the Fun & Games. No matter what crushing defeat the protagonist faces, each struggle brings them closer to achieving their goal.
On the other side of the midpoint is the Bad Guys Closing In, No matter what elated victory the protagonist faces, each victory brings them further away from achieving their goal.
And in the middle of that is the midpoint high itself.
The midpoint FALSE high
Look again at how the first half of Act II functions leading into the midpoint. The protagonist faces immense challenges. Sometimes, it feels like no matter what they do, every new obstacle is harder than the last. THIS IS A GOOD THING. It’s essential to making the reader feel the HIGH of the midpoint high.
Except the midpoint high is a FALSE high. The characters overcome this obstacle, but because they achieved that victory without facing their greatest fear, it’s a FALSE victory that quickly causes everything to spiral out of control.
Think of this like those movies that have DARK twist endings. You think everything’s fine, but then…
TWIST ENDING EXAMPLES
(BEWARE!!! SPOILERS ABOUND)
After a grueling pursuit of a serial killer, Detectives Somerset and Mills finally catch John Doe. John agrees to reveal the location of his final two victims as long as Somerset and Mills will accompany him. Seems fishy (as a false high should!), but it really feels like they might have solved this.
Cady successfully remakes herself in Regina’s image and takes over as the coolest, most popular girl in school...until she realizes that being the biggest B isn’t the prize she dreamed of.
David Dunn claims his true self as a superhero, a silent guardian for his city and the people he loves. He achieves this in large part due to the aid of his new friend, the comic historian Elijah Price. Except in the final moments, David discovers a dark secret about Elijah.
MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE
Garrett writes a “message in a bottle” to his deceased wife to let her know he’s found a new love. He’s ready to move on. HOORAY!!!! But then he goes sailing one last time solo…
THE FAULT IN OUR STARS
Hazel and Augustus face their fears to discover their true selves and claim all of the best things in life, including the love they’ve found with each other. Except Augustus has a dark secret to share with Hazel that could cost them everything.
Leonard doesn’t remember much, but he does remember that he won’t rest until he finds his wife’s killer. In the film’s final moments, he does just that, but the killer’s true identity will upend everything he thought he knew.
A tragic accident leaves Grey Trace as a quadriplegic, but a benefactor implants a chip in his spine that gifts him not just with mobility but seeming superhuman abilities. Even after Grey discovers and defeats the hidden enemy behind it all, a darker truth awaits him in the film’s final moments.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Now here’s what you can learn about how to make an excellent MIDPOINT FALSE HIGH as well as an excellent transition into the BAD GUYS CLOSING IN.
The same way one of these twist endings feels like a true victory but then quickly transitions into a dark revelation is exactly how I want you to approach that middle part of your story. Make your reader jump for joy, even though they can tell this seems way too good to be true.
And you know what? They’re right.
Now I want you to go back to your own story.
What is your midpoint high?
Does your protagonist face a huge obstacle before the midpoint high?
What flaw has your protagonist refused to face in themselves that fundamentally taints the midpoint high as a FALSE victory?
Answer these questions and you’ll be on your way to creating one of the most important plot beats of your story.