Person with gray sneakers standing on the middle yellow lines of a road to illustrate your story's midpoint.

Understand Your Life’s Midpoints to Improve Your Story

When I pay attention to my life, it surrounds me. This weekend was no exception.

On Sunday, I completed a powerful meditation by Michael Beckwith that a dear friend had shared with me. It’s an exercise in unconditional love and envisioning the life you want to lead. In the meditation, Michael invites you to ask the loving part of yourself the following questions:

  • What does the universe want to create through you?
  • Who do you need to become for this to happen?
  • What skills do you already possess that will make it so?

Hours later, when I reread Donald Maass’ section on midpoints and the emotional plot, the similarities between his chapter and this meditation were uncanny.

Your story’s midpoint is the “epicenter and pivot point where your character discovers… who they must become, and then begin their journey.” To write one well, it’s not enough to identify the moment. You must “make space for the reader to experience something akin to the weightless apex of a bridge or the dark nadir of a tunnel” as they read it.

That means not only identifying the right moment, but immersing us in its messiness. This requires you to relive that moment with both insight and compassion.

Sometimes your midpoint is easy to pin down, but both fictional and real lives include many journeys, which can complicate this decision. If you know your moment, feel free to skip ahead. But if you aren’t sure, make a list of the times in your life when you committed to a journey against all odds.

As I completed Michael’s meditation, the nadir that returned to me was the day I ended my first marriage—not the moment I said the words out loud, but the second I knew it had to happen.

I’d just arrived at my house after a tough therapy session. Outside my car, the November wind threatened an early winter. Shadows spread along the street as dusk settled over everything. Only the light spilling from my living room window interrupted the coming night. But instead of bringing comfort, it reminded me of how much the bond between my husband and I had frayed and how dim my life had become.

My ex and I met at fourteen. We fell utterly and completely in love in that way you do when adolescent hormones collide with a deep longing for home. We toasted our nuptials at nineteen with plastic cups of sparking grape juice, both of us promising to prove those who said it wouldn’t last wrong. We would be each other’s light.

At the time, forever sounded so romantic. But eleven years later, as I shivered in my car, I felt the gravity of eternity, and saw how much of myself I’d sacrificed to uphold this vow. Change required me to become someone who knew what she wanted, believed in her dreams, and loved herself enough to let others solve their own problems. I had no idea how to do this, but I wanted my light back. Staring at the glow inside the house, I thought of the day I’d left home at seventeen—how I wasn’t just leaving my father, I was claiming my right to a brighter life. When I did this, help followed. It was time to rekindle my inner flame and to trust that life had my back again.

Writing this gave me an opportunity to love a part of myself that once felt so broken. It also reminded me of something my friend Tia Levings often says—the universe will catch you. Just trust that it’s so.

What are some of your midpoint moments—the ones when you committed to your journey against all odds? 

Once you know them, choose one that calls to you. Then answer a few of Donald’s questions:

  • What is that moment of no going back, of despair, of who-am-I-and-what have I become? Note the following: one detail of place, one ache of regret, one brand-new fear, one impossible hope.
  • At the midpoint, write down your protagonist’s view of herself prior to this point. What is no longer true? Who must your protagonist now become? What is she lacking—and utterly unable to achieve?
  • What does she tap into to pull herself through?

Try this midpoint exercise with a few others. The more time you spend with earlier versions of yourself, the more you can love who you were and are. That’s yet another example of empathy in action.

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