On Writing

The False Ending

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I have mentioned that many stories fail to gain traction in the second act. This is where the viewpoint character forgets why they are in the story. Of course, it is the writer who has forgotten; either by writing by their pants or failing to plot in enough conflict to keep the story moving forward. Stories thrive on conflict and bad things must happen to the hero before it all ends up as good and satisfying.

That is why within the second act, is the false ending. In fact, you might say this is the top of the hill. And this is why screenwriters call it the midpoint. Everything works up to the midpoint and then tumbles down into the depths of hell before the beginning of the end.

Screenwriters know they must take the viewer to the first turning point within 12 pages. Novelists also incorporate a turning point before the end of the first act. The second act is reserved for the hero doing heroic things; nothing can go wrong. And then it happens: the midpoint. Writers reserve the midpoint for the center of the story and add the ultimate conflict for the hero to face.

The midpoint is when the girl discovers the guy is hiding a secret girlfriend (who usually is revealed in the third act as his sister). Or at the midpoint, the hero faces emotional or physical death. Will she make it? Keep watching. Everything is revealed in the third act.

A good midpoint incorporates a false victory for our hero; she defeats the bad guy, only to discover a badder bad guy is standing behind her. Another excellent midpoint is to have the hero face ultimate disaster; the singing cowboy movies called this a cliffhanger. Finally, a midpoint should provide the ultimate obstacle in the story. What happens to give the antagonist the upper hand? What is the chink in our hero’s armor?

Midpoints add conflict, which is the main reason anyone reads a novel or watches a movie; they want to see the hero defeat the antagonist. They want to see the hero survive the midpoint.

How have you used this technique to infuse your stories with conflict? Reply below in the comments.

© 2015, Michael Shawn Sommermeyer. All rights reserved.


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