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Monday, April 8, 2019

Story Structure Explained: Pinch Points, Midpoints, Plot Points, and Middles (Part 2)

This post focuses on the second part of the middle, aka, the "active" or "warrior" phase of the story, and will take you from the midpoint up to the climax.

For the beginning part of story structure--the prologue, hooks, setup, and "orphan" phase--visit this page.

For the first part of the middle, between the inciting incident and the midpoint, or the "reactive" or "wanderer" phase, visit this page.


At the midpoint, new information enters the story that changes the context. It moves the protagonist from reaction to action. He stops being a wanderer and turns into a warrior, trying to fight back and attack, usually with a clearer goal or a more refined strategy. In other words, he is now more empowered than before.

Midpoints can be mind-blowing. Or they can be subtle. In the film Interstellar, the midpoint also serves as a twist. The context shifts and the audience and protagonists realize that there never ever really was a plan to save the humans on Earth. It was all a ruse to provide people hope. Once Cooper learns this, he changes into warrior mode, determined to do whatever it takes to return to Earth and/or save the people there.

Other midpoints aren't as drastic. It might be the protagonist sitting down to eat and suddenly having a profound realization that changes the perspective of everything she's been reacting to.

In Spider-verse

The midpoint in Spider-verse happens at the very end of the scene where Miles and Peter B. Parker steal the computer from Alchemax, and it goes into the very beginning of the next scene, the bus ride with Gwen Stacy.

Prior to this, even if Miles and Peter have a plan, they've largely been responding. And the only reason they need to go to Alchemax in the first place is because Miles himself broke the override key.

However, by the end of this scene, a few things have changed that steer us into the next phase:

1. Miles learns how to unstick intentionally
2. And how to use his web, intentionally
3. By this point, he's learned how to listen to his spider senses.
4. Peter and Miles begin working together as a team

In other words, things they were reacting to are starting to get under control. Sure, Miles still doesn't have control over all his powers, and maybe that's a variation, but it works because he has control over the iconic, main Spider-man powers.

On the bus ride afterward, Gwen Stacy reveals she knows where they can go to make another override key, promising they'll make sure the new one doesn't break, and thus giving Peter and Miles a clear plan and a clearer path to defeating the antagonist.

Warrior State (and Character Arc)

From the midpoint to the climax, the protagonist is in a stronger proactive or "warrior" state. Armed with what they've learned as a wanderer (which may include having mentors, friends, and helpers), the protagonist is ready to make more proactive efforts or actual attacks on the antagonistic force.  According to Larry Brooks, they may literally fight back, hatch a plan, enlist assistance, demonstrate courage, or show initiative.

They may not always be successful (after all, the story isn't over), but they are brave and intentional. And not only will they be fighting the antagonistic force, but their inner demons as well (which relates to character arc and theme).

In Spider-verse

Now having learned how to stick and unstick, web sling, and listen to his spider senses, Miles is more equipped to carry out (the original) Peter Parker's plan to destroy the collider. He's accumulated a mentor and a friend (and some of the wanderer phase bleeds out just a bit, because he's about to accumulate a few more) to help him on his way--and they are now working together. They are ready and willing to address the antagonistic problem, more directly. And Miles in particular is going to be the one to save the other spider people and send them home (at least that's the plan and attempt at this point.)

Just as much, they are going to be confronting their inner demons too, which in this story, relates to quitting.

Miles, crumbling under everyone else's expectations of him, is going to want to quit progressing. ("I don't know if I can do it. I'm tired of letting everyone down.")

Peter B. Parker, haunted by his failure as a husband and fear of being a father, is going to have to confront that, and he'll have second thoughts about returning to his home dimension. ("You needed me, and I wasn't there. If all I'd given you was the . . . bread that you deserve. We could fill this whole room with bread.")

Gwen Stacy, stuck with having to work with five other people she relates to (not to mention a live version of her dead best friend), is going to be unsure about making friends with them. (Miles: "If you ever open up a slot, maybe we could be friends.")

Worth noting is how these arcs change at the midpoint. By the midpoint, Miles is now planning not to fail. He's trying to reach his potential by succeeding at something new, and he does succeed. (And he's not going to stand by and watch Spider-man die again.) Peter, who fears and is annoyed with kids in the first half of the middle, at the midpoint is now working successfully with Miles. And Gwen Stacy, who has isolated herself from friendship, considers maybe making friends.

Pinch Point 2

We have attack mode. We have skills. And friends. And we have a proactive plan.

Great! Just in time for things to get worse! Like the other pinch point, the second pinch point is the antagonistic force applying (painful) pressure on the protagonist. Because guess what? Now that the hero is stronger and better, we need to show again that the antagonistic force is still a formidable foe--even more of a formidable foe.

Stakes and costs will rise.

Conflicts will broaden and deepen.

Let's see this in action.

In Spider-verse

Pinch point two begins when Miles discovers that his uncle is actually the Prowler. Bam! That conflict just deepened (became more personal). And guess what? It broadens too! Because as Miles runs back to Aunt May's house, it turns out he was followed, which means now we have a big fight on our hands.

Pinch point two is bigger than pinch point one. Instead of having 2 - 3 villains to deal with, you'll notice we now have 4 - 5. Likewise, we have more heroes. And Prowler is trying to kill Miles.

At the end of the second pinch point, Uncle Aaron dies. That's a big personal cost to Miles.

Despite being armed as a warrior, this is not going to be an easy win.

Plot Point 2

Remember at the start of this series when I complained how a lot of terms in the industry are ambiguous? Like plot point one/the inciting incident? Well, the term plot point two can be a bit ambiguous too. But whatever you call it, make sure you understand the concept.

Plot point two (my hybrid version 😅) is made up of two parts: The all-is-lost lull and the last-piece-to-the-puzzle moment.

Most people I've found say plot point two is the second part. Others say it's the first part. Whichever it is, in most successful stories, these two things usually happen in some way, and they again pivot or propel the story in its final direction.

In some stories, they may seem to happen within the climax portion. In others, they occur just before. It all depends on the finer points of the story's structure and how you want to slice and dice and define it.

Part 1: "All is lost"/"Dark night of the soul"/"Darkest hour"

Whatever you call it, before the (typically) last piece of realization/information/context enters the story that allows the hero to win, there is a painful lull where everything feels lost and hopeless.

A mentor may die.

A big failure may take place.

The antagonistic force pulls out something unforeseen and seemingly unconquerable.

Friends and colleagues turn on one another.

Or any other number of devastating things.

It can be internal and personal. Or external and broad.

Not all stories have this moment, but I'd argue that it exists in most successful stories in some way, to some degree.

Part 2: "The last piece to the puzzle"

The last bit of information, realization, or context shift happens or fits into place that allows the hero to defeat the antagonistic force. It pivots the story to the "final chase." Often, it relates to the protagonist finally fully overcoming her inner demons (and therefore manifests the thematic statement by completing the character arc).

It is the moment where the hero moves from being a proactive warrior to becoming a martyr.

Like the orphan state, the martyr state may be more literal or more figurative. But it means the heroine is ready and willing to sacrifice herself. She might be literally willing to sacrifice her life. Or, it might be that she is willing to sacrifice a characteristic or quality of herself or lifestyle.

This is why it often relates to character arc.

Because the inner demon that the protagonist has been struggling with is overcome and "sacrificed" in order to save the "world." The old version of the protagonist is "sacrificed" to overcome the antagonist.

That's my opinion anyway.

So the dad that is working too much may now be willing to quit his job.

Hamilton is now willing to "throw away his shot" (literally and figuratively).

Or perhaps it is more literal.

Harry is willing to die in order to defeat Voldemort.

Whatever it is, after plot point two, the hero is more than a warrior, he's a martyr.

In Spider-verse

After the death of Prowler, everyone realizes that Miles isn't capable of playing his part in defeating the antagonistic forces, precisely because of his inner demon: He can't always get up after getting knocked down (thematic statement). As much as they would like to rely on him, they can't trust that he'll be dependable to save them and all of Brooklyn. Even Peter Parker ultimately deals the blow by "tying" Miles up so he can't be involved.

It's the worst of the worst. Miles has failed in the worst way.

To top it off, the fact that he can't meet their expectations and be who he needs to be means that one of the other characters must face death, because in carrying out the plan, they'll be stuck in this dimension and die in the process (escalating stakes and costs).

Miles asks when he'll know he'll be ready. Peter explains that you won't. It's a leap of faith (a secondary theme).

To make the lull even more lully, Miles's dad comes, and we're reminded that they have drifted even further apart since the beginning of the film. However, his dad explains a few key things. While Miles has been told (and has stated himself) throughout the movie that he "doesn't have a choice," his dad reveals that he believes Miles will be amazing at whatever he pursues (releasing the pressure of his dad's expectations (a secondary theme)), and whatever that is, is his choice (another secondary theme).

At this critical point, we see themes coalescing. For this story, the secondary themes are the final puzzle piece. Miles doesn't need to fear that he won't meet others' expectations; it's his choice what to do and become; and that choice is put into action by a leap of faith.

Empowered with these thematic statements, he's ready to be Spider-man, aka, the martyr. He immediately venom strikes his hold, turns invisible, and gets his own Spider-man suit. He has let go of his old self and inner demons and has become a true hero, willing to do whatever it takes to save others.

All of these changes and thematic statements will be tested, proven, and validated in the climax and denouement.


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