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Pinchofmagic

The Midpoint Mirror

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I like James Scott Bell's writing advice, but I never came across his Mirror Moment theory until this week. It gave me some ideas for my midpoint while I was plotting, so I thought I might share this for anyone else who hasn't seen that before. 

 

Bell uses it for planning his novel, having been both a plotter and a pantser, so he talks about how planning a story can be done from the middle. Here's what he says himself:

What is this novel approach? (Pun intended). Well, it’s a method. In this method you don’t start at the beginning and pants your way through. Nor do you start with the ending and outline the whole doggone thing. You actually start from the middle.

 What?

That’s what I said—the dead center of your novel. Because it is here, in what I call “the mirror moment,” that you discover, truly, what your novel is really all about.

In researching the topic, I discovered there was no agreement on what the midpoint was supposed to do. So I took some of my favorite movies and books and went right to the smack-dab middles and rooted around. What was going on here? What I found literally knocked my socks off. (Yes, I actually had to go around my house picking up my socks, so revelatory was this). What I discovered was that the true midpoint was not a scene at all—it was a moment within a scene. And that very moment, if properly rendered, clarified the entire story.

It’s about the Lead character, taking a long, hard look at himself (as in a mirror). He asks, Who am I? What have I become? Who am I supposed to be? An example is the classic film Casablanca. In the dead center is that moment when Ilsa comes to Rick after closing time, to explain about why she left him. He’s drunk, and basically calls her a whore. She cries and leaves. And Rick buries his head in his hands. The rest of the film is about what kind of man Rick will be.

Or, the mirror moment is when the character realizes that the odds are so great he’s probably going to die. This is the very middle of The Fugitive. Dr. Richard Kimble realizes every police officer and fed in the country is after him. He can’t possibly survive.

Now, if you are intentional about what this moment is in your own book, it will illuminate everything for you. The writing will be more unified and organic. If you’re a panster, you’ll be guided on what to pants next. If you’re an outliner, it will help you revise your outline.
 

 

Diana Cranstoun also describes the method on her website:

 

Open Pride and Prejudice about half-way through and you’ll find the scene where Darcy proposes to Elizabeth in the most pompous fashion. Of course she turns him down and tells him exactly why she’s rejecting him, particularly for his treatment of Mr. Wickham. The next day, having taken her comments to heart, Darcy returns and gives Elizabeth a letter, acknowledging his pride and putting her right on Wickham.  Reflecting on the letter and her own prejudice in the next chapter, she admits, ‘Till this moment, I never knew myself.’  (In fact, when I opened my copy of P&P from my university days, I discovered I had underlined those lines and written – moral climax of book.)

James Scott Bell calls this Midpoint in the internal story The Mirror Moment. The moment (not a scene) when: The character is forced to look at himself. As if in a mirror, only it’s a reflection of who he is at that moment in time. Who am I? What have I become? What do I have to do to regain my humanity? Sometimes, it’s the character looking at the odds. How can I possibly win? It looks like I’m going to die—physically or spiritually. Now what am I supposed to do?

Sometimes, James Scott Bell says, it can be a moment when he actually looks in a mirror and sees – really sees – himself.

 

So, what's your thoughts about a character's self-discovery and beginning of a change? Is the mirror moment something you use while plotting? Would it be a good starting point for planning a story the way Bell uses it (before and after the mirror)? Do you find you have a mirror moment in your story? 

 

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It's interesting, but I don't think it fits every story, and I can't ever see myself starting with the middle. If it's supposed to represent a moment of change for the protagonist, then I need to know what he/she is changing from, which would inevitably lead me to start with the beginning.

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I've heard this described as the point of no return, where the main character (or which ever character it is having this crisis) has to make the conscious decision to take action of some kind. It's the point at which they go from reacting to acting. I like the mirror description, I do think self reflection is an important aspect of it.

I'm not sure about starting in the MIDDLE of a story. To know what the middle is, don't you have to know what it's in the middle of? But I agree that its an excellent tool for making sure your story pacing is working, and that the character arcs are going somewhere. If you look at your outline (planner) or first draft (panster) and find that there is no mirror point transition like this, you may want to consider adding one. I think this turning point really helps the 'flabby middle' syndrome so many stories have.

Another point too, it doesn't have to be physical dead center in the story. It works for the examples given, but other stories might have the moment of realization closer to the inciting incident, or closer to the end, near the 'dark night of the soul' where they are falling to despair and have to rethink their approach.

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13 minutes ago, Banespawn said:

If anyone hasn't watched Dan Wells youtube videos for his 7 point system, I highly recommend it:

That's what I was thinking about in my response 🙂 I've posted that video series like a million times so I didn't want to bombard the forum yet again (I already do that with Writing Excuses haha). I'm glad to find another fan, those videos really helped with my outlining.

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4 hours ago, Penguinball said:

I'm not sure about starting in the MIDDLE of a story. To know what the middle is, don't you have to know what it's in the middle of?

Yeah, I kinda thought this too when I read it, so I agree with you and Banespawn. The character transformation has to be big part of the initial idea for it to work in the early planning stages. Or it's like a matter of writing your way into the story or plot, realise what the change is and then pinpoint where in the story it will take place to do the whole mirror thing. Bell seems dead cert it's right in the middle though, and I figure it's maybe like a spark of growth maybe that begins there and then it slowly transform, like they're aware of it, but not successful in changing it until much later... because I'd also like to push it later into the plot. I do love the idea of a moment like that for the main characters, because it means they do have things they need to change, so a good thing to have in mind to create flaws. By the way, I love those Dan Wells-videos. I watched them a lot when I tried to figure out what plotting was, but I can still go back to them, because hearing someone talk about plot while I'm plotting works great for coming up with ideas. I recommend them too. :) 

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2 hours ago, Pinchofmagic said:

Bell seems dead cert it's right in the middle though,

Today's homework - Go to your bookshelf and pick out a couple favourite books. Take a look at the chapter exactly, numerically, in the centre of the novel. What happens in that chapter? Are the character's experiencing an epiphany of some kind? (positive, negative, realizations, changes of motivation, that kind of thing). Report back with your findings!

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12 hours ago, Penguinball said:

Today's homework - Go to your bookshelf and pick out a couple favourite books. Take a look at the chapter exactly, numerically, in the centre of the novel. What happens in that chapter? Are the character's experiencing an epiphany of some kind? (positive, negative, realizations, changes of motivation, that kind of thing). Report back with your findings!

Did it with a Discworld book, and found Nanny Ogg singing "A wizard's staff has a knob on the end"... That certainly was an epiphany for me. 😄

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