Saturday, June 16, 2012

Story Structure -- Center Point

Hi folks, I'm continuing my series about the five essential turning points in novels. This week I've covering the center point. Many call the center point, the point of no return. Some call it the tent pole. I must confess I have gotten a better handle on this turning point in novels because of e-reader technology.

When I had read about 100 books on my e-reader, I had an ah-ha moment.  E-readers have some nifty features, and one is keeping tabs on the percentage of the book you have completed. I started noticing that if something didn't turn in a novel at the 50% percent page, I would get antsy. I might even stop reading the book. My writer self perked up at this. I began to analyze what was going on, and I learned a thing or two. Here goes.

The center point is certainly a point of no return. The character can never return:  she can never home, she can never be a person that has not loved, she can never return to a place of safety after this point, etc.  So the center point plunges the main character into consequences. If she doesn't figure this out, i.e. find a solution, she will never have a family or home again, she is going to suffer forever from a broken heart, or she is going to die. 

This center point is also another decision point for the character.  I have noticed this can work two ways: an event leads to a decision or a decision leads to events. (I'm not sure if these two are the only ways to make a decision at center point, just the two I've noticed.) In one case, a gal might have been at odds with a totally annoying guy for the first half of the book, but then the totally annoying guy saves the gal from mega-embarrassment at the mid-point. Ah, the gal has been wrong, this totally annoying guy is really a habenero hottie.  So "the saving" was the event, and she changed her opinion about totally annoying guy. Ah, I think they might fall in love...

Here's the other way the decision at the center point can work. A loser guy travels really far to get a ring of ultimate power to the safety of the magical elf city, and that's what he signed up for.  The ring needs to be carried on to the volcano to be destroyed, but this loser guy is done. He's dumping the ring with the elf king and going home!  Let everyone argue about what happens next, he thinks, but dang it, none of the bozos in the elf city seem to be capable of carrying the ring to the volcano. No one expects him, loser guy, to step up, but he did get the ring to the elf city, and, heck, that was hard.  So loser guy makes a decision and steps up for second half of the journey that will be a million times harder than the first half! I think loser guy needs a name change to hero. Yay!

I hope this little discussion about the center point of a novel will help you find, define, and refine the center point of your novel.  Keep creating!   See ya next week.

This week's doodle is: "Girl in Patchwork Coat."

Finally a quote to tuck in your pocket this week.

In everybody’s life there’s a point of no return. And in a very few cases, a point where you can’t go forward anymore. And when we reach that point, all we can do is quietly accept the fact. That’s how we survive. Haruki Murakami


Candilynn Fite said...

Hey, Molly! Good point you've made here, but one I honestly never gave much thought to. I guess everyone looks at books / novels differently though. Do you think it's possible of the "center point" to be closer to the beginning or the end, instead of directly in the middle?

I can't come up with an example at the moment, but I'm just thinking aloud. I do that sometimes. You can tell me to shhh! at any time.

Hope you are well. :) See you next week?

MollyMom103 said...

I've looked at well over a hundred books. I do think the center point sometimes comes a little early and sometimes a little late, say 10 pages on either side of center. That' the most I've ever found.

I do feel this was a weakness to the story telling.

I'm so glad you drop by Candi!

I believe your story structure will be stronger if you have a center point.

I hope this is a place to think out loud. If you come up with an example that doesn't have a center point turn, let me know. I can't think of one off the top of my head.

Andy Sherrod said...

The Frodo example really drives your point home. Your are quite right about his point of no return. I noticed it in the book but it was even more amplified in the movie. I thought, "Oh NO. I can't believe he sighed up for THAT."

Vijaya said...

Molly, we must be on the same wavelength because I (finally) figured this out in my latest wip ... it's actually a quiet moment, and I don't think even my MC realizes the shift that's occurred in her heart/mind.

Great post! Oh, man, if we ever got a Kindle, we'd be broke. I'm resisting, resisting ...

Marcia said...

I'm a pantser, so have never done a lot of planning, but lately I too have been more aware of these 5 points in the novel, and how important it is to have a "no return" at the midpoint. I still pants myself from tent pole to tent pole, but I do like the basic structure.

MollyMom103 said...

Hi Andy, yep, it's even clearer in the movie because movies have to have stronger turning points I think. A movie is a very limited story form. Books are more flexible and turning points can be subtle or blatant depending on the author's purpose.

Hi, Vijaya, not every book has a knock you over the head turning point. I'm toying with the idea to think of it as a renaming.

Hi, Marcia, pansters are welcome! I'm an assemble materials and then construct writer. I do use improvision and keep an extemporaneous spirit throughout each draft. I love how there are so many pathways to create stories. Our unique processes bring that something extra special to our work. I'm sure.

MollyMom103 said...

Vijaya, oh, the Kindle, it's a miracle and a nightmare at the same time. The library has started loaning books here and at least tha helps, but I love, love, love to read.

Faith Pray said...

Hi Molly! I'm glad to read more about the turning point in this post. I've only just started thinking apart from the words in front of me. I tend to get so lost while reading that I miss the frameworks and bracings. It makes me want to pick ten favorite books and find those significant points in them. Thank you for the great writing brain food!

MollyMom103 said...

Hi Faith, I'm glad my little series is helping! I know about getting lost when I'm reading. I really appreciate a writer who makes all the underpinings disappear for me.

I thought of two more specific event categories that lead to decisions at the center point! You can plunge your main character into a totally new setting that makes them decide to view the world in a new light. You can introduce a new character who rocks the main characters world and forces the to make a decision.

Trudi Trueit said...

Great post, Molly! It's so helpful to discuss how one element of a story builds on the next. I have always called this center part of the novel 'the turning point,' - what the protagonist is now able to do, based on what he/she has learned, that he/she couldn't (or wouldn't) do at the beginning of the book. Thanks for reminding me of how important it is!

MollyMom103 said...

Hi, Trudi!

It is certainly a turning point for the protagonist. It's also a place of new knowledge that's going to drive the story forward. I totally agree.

Thanks for sharing your wisdom. :)

Lexa Cain said...

Hi Molly! Those are great insights and explanations into the turning point of the middle. I especially love the LOTR example.

Keep revising! :-)
(Laura from Verla-Kay's)

MollyMom103 said...

Hi, Lexa! Glad you dropped by and found something helpful.