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Monday, July 26, 2021

The Steadfast, Flat-Arc Protagonist in Story: The Middle

Last week I began breaking down story structure according to positive steadfast, flat-arc protagonists--protagonists who don't much change their primary worldview (this is sometimes referred to as the "truth," which is essentially the story's theme). Here we continue that journey into the middle. 

I hope this is helpful to anyone who has struggled with the flat-arc characters. 

Just as a recap, there are three categories of positive steadfast protagonists.

1. One that experiences little to no doubt, such as James Barrie in Finding Neverland. (Because they experience no doubt, there isn't much of an internal journey plotline, so another type of plotline will be emphasized in its place--likely the world/society or the Influence Character plotline.)

2. One that doubts applying the truth (his or her accurate worldview) in one of these ways:

- Doesn't know how to actually do what he needs to do (i.e. We all believe no one should go hungry, but how do we actually solve world hunger?), such as Ashitaka in Princess Mononoke.

- Doubts his capabilities. Does he have what it takes to claim victory? Can he survive the costs? This is where Peter Parker is at in the beginning of Spider-man 2.

- Doubts her role or worthiness. Should she be the person taking this journey? This is what happens in Moana

3. One that entertains doubt concerning the truth, the accurate worldview. Could the opposing worldview (the lie, the misbelief, the anti-theme) be the right one? Diana does this in Wonder Woman.

These are not all exclusive. For example, a protagonist may doubt her worthiness and begin doubting her accurate worldview (the truth). A protagonist may also be one way for the primary theme, but a different way for a secondary theme. For example, in Finding Neverland, James Barrie never doubts the primary theme (that playfulness empowers us by getting us to believe in something more), but he does express doubt in the secondary theme (that sincere friendship is more important than reputation). 

Again, here are our breakdowns of the stories we're dissecting as examples.

Finding Neverland

Protagonist: James Barrie

Primary Theme (Accurate Worldview): Playfulness empowers us and helps us cope by getting us to believe in something bigger.

Primary Anti-theme (Inaccurate Worldview): We should go through life seriously. Playfulness is inappropriate.

Primary Arc: James Barrie is a positive steadfast protagonist who doesn't doubt the primary theme at all.

Secondary Theme (Accurate Worldview): Sincere friendship is more important than reputation.

Secondary Anti-theme (Inaccurate Worldview): Reputation is more important than friendship.

Secondary Arc: James Barrie is a positive steadfast protagonist who entertains some doubt through the middle concerning friendship being more important than reputation.

Princess Mononoke

Protagonist: Ashitaka

Primary Theme (Accurate Worldview): We should strive to live in peace with others, by not giving into hate.

Primary Anti-theme (Inaccurate Worldview): We should use hate as fuel to defeat our enemies and get what we want.

Primary Arc: Ashitaka is a positive steadfast protagonist who is unsure how to apply the theme to the wider world.

Secondary Theme (Accurate Worldview): We should face death calmly and humbly. It's okay to seek healing and life, but we should not rage or try to cheat the inevitable. 

Secondary Anti-theme (Inaccurate Worldview): We should seek the death of our enemies, and when confronted with our own, rage onward arrogantly and destructively.

Secondary Arc: Ashitaka is a positive steadfast protagonist who never seems to doubt the secondary theme.

Wonder Woman

Protagonist: Diana

Primary Theme (Accurate Worldview): We should fight for the world we believe (which comes from choosing love/mercy)

Primary Anti-theme (Inaccurate Worldview): We should allow humans to suffer the world they deserve (which comes from choosing punishment/justice)

Primary Arc: Diana is a positive steadfast protagonist in the primary theme who doubts her accurate worldview.

Secondary Theme (Accurate Worldview): People have both good and bad in them. They are gray.

Secondary Anti-theme (Inaccurate Worldview): People are black or white (innately good or innately evil)

Secondary Arc: Diana is a positive change character in the secondary theme. She moves from having a black and white view, to seeing the gray (the truth). 

Remember that essentially these terms mean the same thing: 

Anti-theme = Inaccurate Worldview = Lie = Misbelief = Flaw (to some degree)


Theme = Accurate Worldview = Truth (I have also sometimes heard this called the "Central Idea")

And as a reminder, I'm using a hybrid beat sheet, as pretty much most story structures (The Hero's Journey (Vogler's version), Save the Cat!, or 7 Point Story Structure) say largely the same thing, just from different angles. 

Let's get to it!

The Middle

In a steadfast protagonist story, the middle will be about testing the protagonist's accurate worldview. They need to be challenged, tried, and tempted, because only in the face of adversity, can we really see how steadfast they actually are. 

It's easy to be believing and do good when you have no opposition, when you have nothing to lose. It can be excruciating when the whole world is against you and you have everything to lose. 

For a steadfast protagonist who experiences little to no doubt, this opposition and the stakes will be largely external--or perhaps better said, almost solely external. These are steadfast protagonists who don't have much of an internal plotline. Since they don't experience much doubt, they'll be simply tested by the external obstacles of the plot.

For the other types, the meat of a rich internal plotline (should you want a rich internal plotline) will likely come from struggling with the doubts mentioned above. 

But how strong the internal journey is, also depends on how much attention you give it. (More on that topic in the future.)

Part 1

The first half of the middle and the second half of the middle function a little differently, so it's helpful to break the segment into two parts. 

In the first half of the middle, the protagonist will continue reacting to the world around them. This doesn't necessarily mean that the protagonist isn't proactive at all, but rather, they don't yet have a clear enough understanding of the antagonistic force to properly or directly confront it. They are usually learning about and trying to understand this new situation, this new "world" (literal or figurative) they have found themselves in. It perhaps might be better to say, that here, they are less proactive than what we see in the second half of the story, generally speaking.

A lot of the following will overlap or be ongoing, so these aren't so much an order as they are a list. (And because of this, you may see some of the same aspects mentioned under multiple headings.)

Allies (& Enemies)

In the first half of the middle, the protagonist will usually start gaining allies. In fact, often the beginning of the middle will be marked with meeting a key ally.

If we already met the ally character(s) in the beginning, usually there will be a turn in the relationship that draws them and the protagonist closer to each other (instead of the meeting). This may be a commitment to work together on the way to the plot goal or it may be seeing another--often more intimate--side to each other. 

Usually (though not always) the Influence Character is a primary ally. In a flat-arc protagonist story, the Influence Character embodies the change arc. This means that the Influence Character starts on the inaccurate worldview and adopts the protagonist's accurate worldview by the end of the story (typically). The Influence Character will be challenging and questioning the protagonist's belief, as a sort of thematic opponent. The Influence Character believes the lie/anti-theme is the accurate worldview, and therefore usually disagrees with the protagonist's methods. 

Often it's a good idea to have each key supporting character tapping into the theme in some way. This helps bring in thematic "grays" (we show the argument between theme and anti-theme isn't "black and white"). Because this is a positive steadfast protagonist story, usually these characters will not have the whole, accurate worldview. They have wrong or at least incomplete worldviews. Most of the allies are on their own personal journeys, and the protagonist will prove the truth/theme to them by the end. 

This is not to say you can't have a side character who has the accurate worldview, the truth, or perhaps even understands it better (in Moana, Moana's grandmother understands the true worldview even better than Moana does), but it's less common (and that character may even sometimes be somewhat inaccessible--notice Moana's grandmother is gone for the middle of the story). I'm not yet positive, but I think this is more likely to happen with protagonists who have the true worldview, but lack real-world experience--characters who are more naive and childlike that way. 

Just as the protagonist usually gains allies, he usually encounters more enemies. These characters may or may not have a problem directly with the protagonist, but they do inhibit the protagonist's progress. If there are no "enemy" characters, there will at least be opposing forces. 

*Worth mentioning is that on some occasions, this can bleed into the second part of the middle. 

In Finding Neverland

James gives Peter (Influence Character) a journal to write his own stories in, and reveals that he's started writing about their adventures, too. Soon after, he shares his "ghost/wound" with Sylvia, which he's never shared with anyone (and which adds thematic grays). Both of these relationships take a turn by becoming more personal. But James also grows closer to the other boys.

On the other hand, Sylvia's mother becomes more of an enemy, and others in the city begin to spread rumors about James.

Most of the Davies family embraces playfulness, but none of them have a "full" or "complete" understanding of it (something James will help them with by the end). 

In Princess Mononoke

Since Ashitaka journeys away, he meets all new characters, most of which believe in some rendition of the lies or inaccurate worldviews of the primary and secondary themes. San is the most noteworthy, and as the Influence Character, will embody the change arc for the story. Raised by wolves, she is full of hatred toward humans, who are destroying the forests. Lady Eboshi is another influential figure, and runs Iron Town. She wants to destroy the gods and spirits of the forest, so her town can prosper. 

Jiko is trying to bring back the head of the great forest god to the emperor, for his own monetary gain--legend says that if one possesses the head, they can live forever (the great forest god has the power to give life and take life away). There are also some other key characters: the wolves themselves, the people who live in Iron Town, the ape tribe--every one of them taps into the arguments of hatred vs. peace and/or life vs. death. 

Because Ashitaka is not taking any sides, many of these characters function as both allies and enemies, depending on the moment. 

In Wonder Woman

Diana and Steve set sail, and their relationship immediately becomes more personal as they engage in conversation on the boat. While Steve doesn't exactly embody the anti-theme, he still flips in a way related to the primary theme. The primary theme is about fighting for the world you believe in, and while Steve does that to some degree, he disbelieves the world Diana is talking about. Many themes can be reduced to a value, like "playfulness" or "peace." In the value of "belief," Steve still works as the voice of "disbelief." He will come to better believe in Diana's worldview by the end. 

In the secondary theme, this is flipped. Steve knows humans beings are gray. Diana thinks human beings are naturally good (white vs. black). So in the secondary theme, Steve is the steadfast character, while Diana is the change character. 

The rest of the allies (which come later than usual in the structure) are like Steve. And they all embody the idea that humanity is gray, because they are made up of a "spy, liar, and a smuggler," not black-and-white "good guys"--they don't necessarily have "honor." (Diana even questions if they are "good" men.)

Diana meets more opposition, and she and Steve fight off some men before delivering Dr. Maru's notebook.

Tests / Fun & Games

In the first half of the middle, the protagonist will be experiencing and learning about the new "world" or situation they are in. Sometimes this segment is serious ("Tests," according to the Hero's Journey) and other times it's more entertaining and endearing ("Fun & Games," according to Save the Cat!).

For the positive steadfast protagonist who doesn't have much experience with the inaccurate worldview (the "lie," "misbelief," or "anti-theme"), this may be them learning how the lie-riddled society works--and how to navigate it. In Wonder Woman, Diana must learn how the human world functions. For inexperienced protagonists, this may be their first legitimate, real-world encounter of the living lie.

But whether your protagonist is familiar with the inaccurate worldview or not, she will begin running into events and people that somehow oppose her accurate worldview. These may not be obviously antagonistic--they may even come off as well-meaning. For example, it could be an ally trying to get the protagonist to bend so she safely fits in.

The protagonist will have his or her worldview challenged, but will largely hold onto, voice, or act on his or her initial worldview. (This is true even of change-arc protagonists.) Even if there is some uncertainty, it usually doesn't gain a deep hold.

During this segment, the story usually starts "graying" thematic arguments. Meaning, so far, we've mostly been introduced to two opposing worldviews: the theme vs. the anti-theme, the truth vs. the lie, the belief vs. the misbelief (usually). Essentially: black vs. white.  Now the story will add complexity by bringing in and exploring "gray" areas, through plot and people. Life isn't so simple as either-or. There is more dimension

If the protagonist needs to gain skills to complete her journey, this is usually where that happens. (For example, Moana begins learning how to sail.) As the middle progresses, costs and stakes will also get bigger. 

In Finding Neverland

James is already aware and experienced with the lie/anti-theme. Instead, the challenge for him is to get Peter, the Influence Character, to entertain the truth/theme. In this story, Peter struggles more internally than James. 

This segment is about exploring the growing relationship James has with Davies family, and of course, James has this decision tested. Sylvia's mother disapproves of him. And his wife disapproves of the Davies, creating more turbulence in their marriage. Both women are in favor of seriousness and reputation. 

James's colleague expresses skepticism over the play he is writing--what if it's too playful (a boy who stays young forever? A fairy named Tinkerbell? Pirates?)? And what if it's too expensive? The actors show confusion over the characters they are playing. But James never doubts he's on the right track.

The question of whether one can simply believe in something hard enough to make it magically appear, is introduced as a gray. (You can't pretend you'll have money, and then have it magically appear. Life isn't like that.)

In Princess Mononoke

Inexperienced with this land, Ashitaka must learn how these societies work, and interacts with both the forest and Iron Town. He learns of how the boar became a demon, and remarks that he must have died full of anger.

When questioned about his motives, Ashitaka simply states that he has come here to "see with eyes unclouded by hate"--to which he gets laughed at by Lady Eboshi. 

The themes begin graying, as we learn that Lady Eboshi, while full of hatred for the forest, has shown love to human outcasts. She took in women who'd been sold to brothels, and brought them here to do respectable iron work. She welcomed lepers who had nowhere else to go. Likewise, San herself makes things more complex, as she's a human that has been raised by a wolf god. Lady Eboshi hopes to kill the great forest spirit because it will weaken the forest gods and force San to join human society. She also states that if they do, it may even heal Ashitaka.

As his curse continues to develop, Ashitaka experiences hateful urges--the urge to kill everyone in order to save the forest--but never gives in, and never loses sight of the thematic statements. 

In Wonder Woman

Diana experiences the human world for the first time. She must navigate London with Steve, which includes figuring out how to fit in. This is a humorous fish-out-of-water segment, where she questions the culture and customs. Thematic grays will begin to become more obvious at and after the midpoint, but after finding the right attire, she observes some grays when meeting with The Supreme War Council.

Pinch Point 1

A quarter of the way into the middle, or perhaps better said, about 37% into the story (I know not everyone likes using percentages, but consider it a guideline), there will be a pinch point. 

A pinch point relates to the antagonistic force. It's the equivalent of the protagonist getting pinched by the antagonist. It reveals to the audience that the antagonist is a legit force and foe. Typically, the pinch puts pressure on the protagonist, forcing her into action.

If the antagonistic force has already been introduced, this moment heightens the sense of pain, pressure, or tension and reveals the antagonist to be worse or "more" than what we gleaned prior. If the main antagonistic force hasn't yet been introduced, then this is his/her/its introduction.

And in some pinch points, the protagonist may not actually be present, but the audience perceives that the antagonist is going to be a legitimate problem for the protagonist, even if the protagonist herself is unaware.

Usually, the antagonistic force taps into the anti-theme/lie/misbelief, at least when it comes to any of the positive arcs. This may be especially important with the positive steadfast protagonist--after all, the whole point of this story is to pressure the protagonist to bend to the opposing belief system. 

In Finding Neverland

Things become more problematic when James learns that rumors are spreading about him--rumors that he's having an affair with Sylvia, and worse . . . that the reason he's so playful with the boys is because he's a pedophile. James states that surely people don't believe such ridiculous things, but it's shown that they do, and it's not only affecting him, it's affecting the Davies as well--no one will interact with them (reputations). The antagonistic force is more powerful than he realized. (Also worth noting is a sense of graying, as the community is believing in something that isn't real, but not for playful reasons.)

In Princess Mononoke

Determined to kill Lady Eboshi out of rage and hate, San infiltrates the town. She fights Ashitaka and then seeks out Lady Eboshi. This is a longer segment that bleeds right into the midpoint. As San prepares to kill Lady Eboshi, Ashitaka begs her to not "throw her life away."

In Wonder Woman

Dr. Maru reveals she's come up with a new gas that will help Ludendorf regain his strength. Just after we see this confirmed, she suddenly gets an idea for another gas--one that she promises will be "terrible." It is soon shown that even gas masks cannot resist it.


The midpoint is a significant event and/or revelation that is usually either a seeming victory or a seeming defeat for the protagonist. It often provides a broader understanding of what's actually happening in the plot.

This shifts the protagonist so that he moves from reacting, to acting (proactive). It's not that he wasn't doing anything before necessarily; it's just that now he has a greater understanding of how to go on the "attack," a clearer idea of what must be done, to fight the antagonistic force. For the flat-arc protagonist, the midpoint will likely show the lie or anti-theme is bigger or more powerful than he realized.

The midpoint almost always happens right in the middle of the story. And it pivots the story into the second half.

It also has what James Scott Bell calls "The Mirror Moment." The Mirror Moment is a moment where the protagonist "looks in the mirror" figuratively and comes to terms with what must be done to move forward and be active. 

For the change-arc protagonist, this often includes a glimpse of the truth or thematic statement, he just doesn't fully embrace it yet. For the flat-arc protagonist, the truth usually isn't something she glimpses within, but rather something she helps others glimpseAs K. M. Weiland states, the midpoint leads the flat-arc protagonist to become even more committed to succeed in their journey. She writes, "He’s suddenly afire with new determination."

Or, alternatively, the midpoint may be where doubt begins to take root. For example, in Moana, Maui questions why Moana was chosen by the ocean--she's just a mortal girl and lacks the necessary skills. Why her? Moana begins to consider his argument. In Glass, Dr. Staple explains through science that David is ordinary, while he listens intently. In The Lion King, Scar implies Simba ruined the Circle of Life by killing Mufasa, so all he can do now, is run away and never return. Simba thinks he's not meant to be king anymore. In Spider-man 2, Peter's doctor suggests that maybe he's not supposed to be Spider-man anymore. (In some of these examples, one may say that the protagonist gets a glimpse of the lie.)

And in some stories, it may be possible to have the protagonist help others glimpse the truth and become more motivated, and simultaneously begin to doubt applying the truth (How do I do this? Do I have what it takes? Am I the right person?).

The three examples I'm using in this series happen to delay true doubt, but I wanted to mention it could be a key feature of the midpoint, if not the main feature. In The Lion King and Spider-man 2, the glimpse of the lie leads the protagonists to actually start acting on the lie, if temporarily.

In short, there are some variations in here, which may affect the second half of the middle.

In Finding Neverland

With more of the internal journey focused on Peter, at the midpoint, we see that James's impact on him seems to have not only taken root, but is growing (a glimpse of the truth). Peter has written a play, cast his brothers, and wants Sylvia and James to come watch. It's a seeming victory for James and the thematic statement. But doubt and trouble sneak in when Sylvia begins coughing uncontrollably. It's so bad, they have to stop the play. James takes her inside to call the doctor, and an upset Peter destroys his script, set, and stage. 

Peter argues that playing pretend is really just a lie, and that adults keep lying to him. When his dad was sick, adults told him his dad would be fine, then he died the next morning. James tries to explain that was them expressing their hope, not a lie. James perceives that the anti-theme goes even deeper in Peter than perhaps he first appreciated.

In Princess Mononoke

Hate, rage, and death rear their ugly heads as San and Lady Eboshi fight, but their appearance only sparks more determination in Ashitaka to stand for the truth. He interrupts the conflict with supernatural strength, saying he will stand against the killing. He offers a glimpse of the truth to the surrounding characters: "There is a demon [figurative for hate] inside of you. It's inside both of you. Look everyone, this is what hatred looks like. This is what it does when it catches hold of you. It's eating me alive, and very soon it will kill me [referencing his growing infection, which is also a metaphor for hate]. Fear and anger only make it grow faster."

Ashitaka is shot as he rescues San, but remains unnaturally calm in the face of death. The great pains he goes to rescue San, leads her to question the worldview she knows and glimpse the accurate one--but she doesn't fully embrace or understand it yet. 

While the great forest spirit heals Ashitaka's bullet wound, it leaves his infection. Ashitaka must come to terms with his inevitable death: This journey will undoubtedly cost him his life. Will he still try to apply the truth, even when he will gain nothing personally from it?

In Wonder Woman

The true midpoint comes a little earlier in Wonder Woman than most stories. Steve and Diana deliver Dr. Maru's stolen notebook to the Supreme War Council. Diana is able to translate it and reveals to the others that Dr. Maru has invented a hydrogen-based gas that is resistant to gas masks, which they plan to release at the war front. 

The council says they can't afford to do anything about it--they can't send troops in while negotiating a surrender (seeming defeat). When confronted with the fact everyone will die from the gas, the general responds, "That's what soldiers do." (A sort of rendition of the argument that humankind deserves to die based on their roles/what they are.) He commands they will do nothing about the gas. 

Diana cannot believe what she is hearing! It's worse than she could have imagined, and she speaks loud enough for all to hear. "You would knowingly sacrifice those lives, as if they mean less than yours. As if they mean nothing. Where I come from, generals don't hide in their offices like cowards. They fight alongside soldiers, die with them on the battlefield. You should be ashamed."

Outside the room, Steve and Diana decide they will go anyway, without permission (becoming more active with a plan on how to move forward). 

Diana is upset that Steve lied to the generals. Steve responds, "I'm a spy. That's what I do." (This plays into the secondary theme--Diana gets a glimpse that a liar is the one person who is doing the right thing.) Steve reveals that they will probably die on the mission.

Part 2

The second half of the middle is usually where the protagonist is more proactive, in a sort of "attack mode." Thanks to the midpoint, she's ready to get more serious with the antagonistic force. 

Essentially what is happening in here is that both the protagonist and the antagonist, and the theme (truth) and the anti-theme (lie) become more intense and combative as stakes and costs get bigger. It becomes more of a power struggle, in comparison to what came prior. 

If the steadfast protagonist experiences doubt, this is usually when that doubt gains ground. This can be as simple as the protagonist entertaining some doubt like James Barrie, or doubting the truth altogether like Diana. Doubt will usually hit hardest at the end of the middle.

Or, alternatively, if the protagonist began to embrace the lie at the midpoint, then the second half of the middle will likely show her acting on the lie, and the effects of that. When the steadfast protagonist refuses to move forward and act on the truth, the second half of the middle will show the ramifications on the character and/or environment. In The Lion King, Simba spends the second half of the middle living the lie or anti-theme. His actions have negative consequences as we watch Pride Rock and the surrounding kingdom suffer imbalance and starvation because the Circle of Life has been broken. Likewise, in Spider-man 2, Peter begins acting on the lie--striving to live an ordinary life by chasing his own wants, instead of being responsible with the powers he's been given. Like Simba, Peter seems to get closer to the life he wants, but at the cost of what the environment needs. Crime goes way up in New York.

Good Guys Move Forward & Bad Guys Close In (& Doubt May Manifest)

The terms "good guys" and "bad guys" can be a little misleading, as you can have the protagonist be the "bad guy" and the antagonist be the "good guy," but since we are talking about positive steadfast protagonists, the protagonist is essentially going to be the good guy.

The protagonist (and likely his allies) will move more proactively toward the plot goal. This may mean making more preparations, ironing out a plan, or obtaining something. Whatever the case, the protagonist is taking more determined action toward success. 

Often the protagonist (or at least the audience) will catch sight of a major danger in the "new world" that they will eventually have to confront (regardless of arc type). They will have to face more tests and obstacles as the antagonistic forces become stronger. Just as the protagonist is fighting harder, so it is with the antagonist. The bad guys are also planning, regrouping, and attacking. 

This may lead to more doubt in the steadfast protagonist, enriching the internal journey. Will he be able to figure out how to appropriately apply the true thematic statement to the real world? Will he have the strengths, skills, and courage necessary to succeed? Will he be capable of making the required sacrifices, paying the required costs, which may be more than he ever imagined? Is she the best person to take on this role? Is she worthy of it? Or, could it be that there is some validity to the anti-theme, the misbelief, the lie? Her journey seems to be suggesting that she could be wrong. . . . 

To make matters worse, she may be dealing with conflicting wants--she may want the need and also want a personal want. Or maybe she is now entertaining conflicting belief systems, if she is considering the lie or anti-theme could maybe be true.

In any case, the antagonistic force will be tempting the flat-arc protagonist to abandon her accurate worldview.

If you are going to test your steadfast protagonist to his or her limit, this is where you start doing that.

Variation: If your protagonist embraced the lie at the midpoint, he will probably become more proactive in the wrong direction (the lie), while the antagonistic force begins to unravel the "world." (I use "proactive" a little loosely, as from another angle, Simba is rather lazy, but he's "proactive" in not fulfilling his divine role.)

In Finding Neverland

James comes home to discover his wife, Mary, has a male acquaintance over late. She wants James to network with him, but she also subtly puts blame on James for always coming home so late. James guesses at her ulterior motive that the reason the man is here so late, is to provoke him--a punishment for the time he spends with the Davies. Their marriage is continuing to disintegrate. 

Mary finds James's notebook, and begins reading it, hoping to discover he's having an affair.

As the play moves forward, people involved express doubt about it, but James continues to believe in it and move forward. He comes up with a plan to help it succeed. Because some of what happens in this segment overlaps with others, I won't lay it all out in here. 

In Princess Mononoke

The antagonistic force of hate seems to become stronger as the boars come to the forest, with the intent of battling the humans. The boars are willing to rage on destructively and meet their ends in order to harm humans as much as possible--even if the boars have no chance of seeing victory. Essentially, they would rather die trying to kill the humans, than leave in peace. This is the protagonist "catching sight" of a major potential danger. 

More hatred is seen between the humans themselves, as a group attacks the people of Iron Town, hoping to get ahold of the iron for themselves. 

Jiko and Lady Eboshi make plans to kill the great forest spirit. 

As Ashitaka rests, Moro, the wolf god, briefly tempts him to jump to his death. After all, his infection will only spread. Ashitaka expresses he doesn't know how to help the world find peace. Why can't the humans and forest get along? How is he going to help San, who seems neither fully wolf nor fully human? He doesn't know. Moro plays into his uncertainty by saying there is nothing he can do to succeed. 

In Wonder Woman

Steve explains that they need reinforcements--this is where he and Diana gain the rest of their allies (and Diana questions if they are even good men). Sir Patrick Morgan says what they are doing is honorable (despite it being against orders), and he wants to help and gives them money for a few days. The characters make concrete plans and act more proactively, traveling toward the war front in Belgium.

On the way, Diana voices the irony of working with "a murderer, liar, and smuggler" to Steve, who points out that he himself actually embodies all those things (something Diana hadn't considered). As she gets to know the other allies, she begins to witness they are not what they seem. 

On the other side of the war, Ludendorf meets with those negotiating the armistice. When they disagree with his plans, he and Dr. Maru kill them with her new gas. 

From here to the end of the middle, both good guys and bad guys continue to gain ground (I won't lay out every moment). Diana continues holding on to the true primary theme, and begins to face the reality of her misunderstanding of the secondary theme.

Pinch Point 2

Like the other pinch point, the second pinch point is the antagonistic force applying (painful) pressure on the protagonist. Because guess what? We need to show that the antagonistic force is still a formidable foe--even more of a formidable foe.

Pinch Point 2 often (though not always) kicks off a trajectory that will take us to the climactic moment of the middle: The Ordeal. Sometimes they even very much bleed into each other (like in Moana), so don't feel like you have to slice and dice the story exactly. But Pinch Point 2 usually hits about 62% (halfway through the second half of the middle) into the story, just as a guideline. 

In Finding Neverland

Sylvia's mother pulls James aside and tells him that all his activity with Sylvia and the boys is actually hurting them, by hurting their reputations. She argues that no one will want to marry Sylvia, if she seems to be spending so much time with a married man. 

When James comes home, he finds Mary reading his notebook. She voices she thought she'd find out he was having an affair, but found nothing of the sort. Still they have a discussion about their failing marriage, and Mary says if things don't change, she's leaving him. 

In Princess Mononoke

The humans prepare for battle by setting a trap for the boars. It won't be a fair fight. Even if the boars are aware of the trap, they refuse to stand down. They are too arrogant and hateful. They would rather seek their deaths than back down. 

In Wonder Woman

Ludendorf and Dr. Maru gassing the generals could arguably be Pinch Point 2, but again, it does come a little earlier in the story (and as a reminder, some things can overlap).

Still, we also get a "pinch" right after. As the group arrives at the war front, Diana gets her first full view of the horrors of war--something more complicated and damaging than she could have imagined. Men, women, and children dying and starving and being sold into slavery. Steve explains that no one can pass "No Man's Lands." Not everyone can be saved from war. 

The Ordeal & All is Lost

Usually Pinch Point 2 sends the protagonist on a trajectory to hit a climactic moment of the middle, called "The Ordeal" and/or "All is Lost" moment. 

The Ordeal is the biggest test so far for the protagonist, and it will usually make him hit rock bottom. This is often because all the antagonistic forces are overwhelming him at onceIf the flat-arc protagonist experiences any doubt, this is usually where it hits him hardest. This is why it feels as if "All is Lost." It seems the doubts must be true. 

This is usually the lie or the anti-theme at its strongest, so if you are going to show the lie could be the truth, this is typically the best place to do it. Even if the protagonist doesn't believe it could be true, show the audience how it could be. Showcase how, even despite all the thematic grays we've encountered in the middle (or perhaps because of them), the anti-theme is probably the accurate worldview.

A great example of this is in A Quiet Place, Part II, which features a steadfast protagonist and a thematic argument about whether or not people are worth saving. At the climactic moment of the middle, The Ordeal, it is shown that the lie (people aren't worth saving), seems to be true when Regan and Emmett run into a bunch of people at the docks who trick them and nearly kill them. Maybe Emmett was right: People aren't worth saving.

Basically, The Ordeal will be a big event that tests the protagonist's limits and it usually ends in failure, in regards to the plot. 

In some change-arc stories, this failure is swapped out for what's called a "hollow victory"--it seems that the protagonist has succeeded, but it doesn't feel like a complete victory. There is something missing. There is something not right. If it is not "all is lost," then it is "something is missing." The change-arc protagonist will eventually realize this. Theoretically, it's less likely a hollow victory will happen with a steadfast protagonist, as the steadfast protagonist wants what is needed.

However, if the steadfast protagonist has been acting on the lie/anti-theme for the second half of the middle, it's possible to have a hollow victory. For example, Simba tells Nala off and essentially gets what he wants--hakuna matata lifestyle. But he senses "something is missing." Even though he got what he wanted, he feels empty inside. Something isn't right. Something is unbalanced. 

I think there are more variations here, but this could all get rather complicated, so let's leave it there. And remember, often variations ultimately have the same components, just arranged and placed in the story differently.

In any case, both approaches usually lead to a lull. Sometimes the lull lasts a sentence. And sometimes it lasts whole scenes. This then goes into the next plot turn, which will lead us to the end. 

Worth noting is that in some stories, The Ordeal will actually get more emphasis than the end of the story, and the end of the story will simply be a wrap-up of applying what is learned. (For what it's worth, I personally think of these stories as 2-Act stories, because there are only really two climactic moments.)

In Finding Neverland

While James prepares for the stage play, the Davies boys come visit. The oldest, George, expresses serious concern over Sylvia's declining health. James expresses doubt over the secondary theme, saying that he thinks his friendship may have actually harmed their family, so he hasn't been visiting them. Instead of going to Sylvia, he tells George that he must be the one to convince her to go to the hospital (up to this point, Sylvia has refused). While playing on the stage, George breaks his arm (harm in being playful). 

James takes the boys to the doctor and Sylvia must come as well. It is revealed that Sylvia's condition is serious, and implied that it could be terminal, but she wants to go on pretending everything is fine (is that really the best approach to life?). She doesn't want James involved in her health.

Because of George's injury, James gets home late. He discovers that Mary has left him. Everything seems to be going wrong.

Next, it is the play's opening night, but Sylvia is too sick to attend. Peter refuses to go, telling her "It's only a play, Mother. It doesn't matter."

In Princess Mononoke 

During the battle, nearly all the boars and hundreds of humans are killed. At the same time, Iron Town is under attack, with only the women and lepers to defend it--the men having gone to fight the boars, while Lady Eboshi and Jiko go to hunt down the great forest spirit. 

Ashitaka promises to help Iron Town by bringing men and Eboshi back, but he must face samurai on the way and also contend with his infection, which leads him to take more, violent action. 

The antagonistic force seems to be closing in from all angles (even growing stronger within). A world of peace seems impossible with so much conflict, bloodshed, and death. How can Ashitaka possibly succeed?

In Wonder Woman

At the gala, Diana approaches Ludendorf, whom she believes to be Ares. Steve prevents her from attacking him, voicing disbelief in the world Diana believes (to some extent). "I can't let you do this. What if you are wrong?" he asks.

Ludendorf releases the gas toward Veld, the village Diana and the others saved previously. Diana and Steve (separately) race to Veld, but it's too late. The gas is everywhere, and the people are already dead. Diana can hardly believe the devastation.

Upset, she turns on Steve, saying she could have saved all of them if he'd let her kill Ludendorf. "I understand everything now," she says. "It isn't just the Germans that Ares has corrupted, it's you too. All of you."

She races back to Ludendorf to defeat him. But when she kills him, the humans don't stop fighting. Steve voices that maybe the world of gods doesn't exist. He tries to explain that people aren't alway good. Diana can't come to terms with this and expresses the anti-theme, saying "My mother was right. She said the world of men do not deserve you. They don't deserve our help."

Steve, in contrast, voices the truth: "It's not about that. It's about what you believe."

He begs her to help him stop the war and save more lives, but Diana refuses. Everything she once believed appears to be a lie. 

Resources and Influences:

K. M. Weiland's Character Arc Series 

Character Arcs by Jordan McCollum 

"Character Arcs 102: Flat Arcs" at The Novel Smithy 

Dramatica Theory 

Writing Characters Without Character Arcs by Just Write 

Previous Steadfast, Flat-arc Protagonist Articles:

Debunking 6 Myths about Steadfast, Flat-arc Characters

Principles of the Steadfast, Flat-arc Protagonist

3 Categories of Steadfast, Flat-arc Characters

The Steadfast, Flat-arc Protagonist in Story: The Beginning

Continue to Endings -->


  1. Thank you so much for this. I've been struggling with people telling me that my protag doesn't have clear goals, but she states her goals in the first chapter and my story beats meet your 37% and 62% marks almost perfectly, literally landing on chapter breaks. Your "flat" arc, steadfast protag posts are helping me see my own story SO much better and I have some plans to fix some problems I've been struggling with as a result.

    1. You're welcome, and I'm so glad it is helping you out! I used to struggle with the steadfast protagonist so much, mainly because there weren't many resources on it, so I'm happy mine are helping others. Best wishes with the project.


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